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In trading for Erat, Caps’ McPhee makes a move with guts

McPhee Scowls Down

George McPhee (Photo credit: clydeorama)

The Washington Capitals caused a stir on Wednesday, trading highly touted 18 year-old prospect Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators at the NHL trade deadline for 31 year-old winger Martin Erat and 21 year-old prospect Michael Latta.

Regardless of how these players perform from here, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has made a move with guts.

In the Alex Ovechkin era, the Caps have become an organization that often seems be waiting for the future to get here. And something they’ve rarely done is take a risk by dealing young prospects to try to change that.

McPhee has made his fair share of deadline acquisitions in recent years for players such as Sergei Fedorov, Jason Arnott and Cristobal Huet, to name just a few. But these have often been deals to bring in older players or ones in the final year of a contract for a short time, and without having to sacrifice a great deal in return. There’s always been somewhat of a “we’re not trading away the future for today” mentality. The Caps have made their moves in the time of the Young Guns, but they’ve never really been all that bold.

Erat isn’t simply a rental player, acquired for the stretch run. He’s under contract for another two seasons after this one at a very reasonable $4.5 million salary cap hit. The Caps have potentially filled a hole that existed in their top six forwards for the near future and without having to take on a long-term or expensive contract.

Erat has averaged .67 points per game in his 11 year NHL career, playing mostly in a defensive-minded system in Nashville. His numbers could be similar in Washington or they could make a jump now that he’ll be playing in a more offense-driven set up and with higher caliber offensive talent. It could certainly be argued that no forward on Nashville’s current roster has the established playmaking talent of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro.

Could Erat end up being a bust and produce less than he has for the Predators? Absolutely. Could Forsberg be a 20-plus goal scorer or better in the league for a decade or more? Sure. But these are the chances the top teams in sports often take, sacrificing some of tomorrow for a better shot now.

The Caps have not suddenly made the leap to serious Cup contenders with this one move, though anything can happen in the playoffs if they make it. But they’ve made a trade to improve their chances at the post-season now and to make themselves better for the next two years, rather than waiting to see if prospects pan out. If Forsberg and others take a season or two to adjust to the NHL, that’s more sand through the hourglass with the current core of Caps.

And the Caps do still have several promising prospects, including forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. A roster balance must be maintained to remain competitive in the present, yet positioned for down the road. The Caps have hardly thrown away the future with this one risk.

Except for the once-in-a-generation types, new players can be found via trade, the draft and free agency. Another player of Filip Forsberg’s caliber will come along—there will be several of them available every single NHL draft day, in fact. Barring some huge scouting breakdown, the Caps have not dealt away the next Backstrom or Ovechkin. They traded a still very young player who should not be impossible to replace.

What you can’t get back is time. And unless the Caps want to wake up one day with a 35 year-old Ovechkin on their roster and no Stanley Cups or serious runs at one, they need to take some chances. McPhee just did.

More on trade or re-sign Ribeiro

Dave Nichols has a new post up on DistrictSportsPage.com explaining why the Caps should re-sign Mike Ribeiro and it’s a good read in the ongoing debate about what the team should do with their second line center.

A long-term deal for Ribeiro (which I look at as anything greater than three years in this case) still concerns me, with the number of years being a bigger issue than whether the cap hit is $5.5 or $6 million, for example. As I said in my post on selling high on Ribeiro, having him until he’s at least 37 as another highly paid player on the team is a risk I’m not sure I’d take, when there could be other options available:

Chances are Ribeiro won’t continue to put up the numbers he is right now for many more years. He’s posted 1.10 points per game this season through Tuesday’s loss in Pittsburgh, while averaging 0.77 per game since joining the NHL in 1999. Only once before has Ribeiro averaged over a point per game for an entire season, back in 2007-08 with the Dallas Stars, and he’s likely to face a decline in production over the coming years now that he’s reached his mid-thirties.

There is the outside chance that Ribeiro could prove his career averages wrong and continue to produce at his current level for a couple or few more years. But the Caps might also be able to get solid production from a less expensive veteran or a slightly younger player in that role, without having to take on the larger risk of a long-term deal, while also freeing up a million or so in cap space to spend on other needs.

NHL.com writer Corey Masisak summed up this sentiment well in a tweet yesterday:

ribeiro tweet

When I suggest the team sell high on Ribeiro at the deadline, it’s not to just walk blindly into next season with no idea of who the second line center will be. As I wrote in my post the other day, if the Caps choose to deal Ribeiro—an idea that gets less appealing with every game they win and the playoffs remaining in the picture—they should have a plan to replace him this summer with another qualified second line center from outside the organization.

On the other side of this, before I could fully embrace the idea of signing Ribeiro long-term at whatever it takes to keep him, I’d need for someone to convince me that it’s unlikely the Caps can find another quality second line center in the summer trade market like they did when they acquired Ribeiro.

Here’s another way to look at this whole situation though:

If Ribeiro’s production declines by the third or fourth year of a new deal with the Caps and his numbers no longer justify the cap hit at some point, it could be viewed as part of the price the team paid for the more productive seasons they might get from him. Granted this season is still one in which Ribeiro’s putting up more points per game than he ever has before, save for one year in Dallas, so he may never match this again…or maybe he will. But if Ribeiro does follow the path of many players at the ages he’ll soon hit, the Caps could just hope to get the most from him in the earlier years and then write off the latter ones as part of the cost of the biggest seasons that he has, which hopefully help to bring the team more playoff success.

Here’s a good analogy that someone used when discussing this with me on Twitter:

My next thought though is, do you keep that expensive car at the risk it loses some power a few years from now? Or do you trade it in by April 3 if there’s a lucrative offer on the table and then replace the car with a less expensive two-year lease this summer (i.e. a guy toward the end of a deal like Ribeiro was when the Caps acquired him) or a younger but established option that might have more big years left to help justify a long-term deal?

If the Caps keep winning though and are in the playoff hunt at the trade deadline, a huge piece of this all goes away. So the easy solution is for them to just win the Cup this season, with Ribeiro earning the Conn Smyth. Simple, right? Then George McPhee can just figure the rest out this summer.

The case for trading Mike Ribeiro

Ribeiro Lays a Hard Check on Wideman

Mike Ribeiro (Dallas Stars) Lays a Hard Check on Dennis Wideman (Washington Capitals). Photo credit: clydeorama

The following is one half of a point/counterpoint pair of posts. Ryan Boushell, who leans more toward re-signing Ribeiro, has posted his view on his blog, Rocking the Red in Pittsburgh.

If the Washington Capitals can re-sign center Mike Ribeiro, preferably before the April 3 trade deadline, for two years at close to the $5 million he currently makes per season, they should do so with little hesitation. But, with the supply of first and second line centers in the 2013 free agent market already looking thin and Ribeiro putting up the best numbers of his career, the 33 year-old can likely do better in both dollars and years if he waits and tests the market this summer. This could be his last chance at a big, multi-year payday before signing some smaller contracts in his late thirties.

As well as Ribeiro has played this season, this type of ‘big payday’ contract is something the Caps should avoid in this case. Signing Ribeiro for 4+ years at $5 to $6 million per year, for example, could give a Washington team with large financial commitments to Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green even less room to maneuver in the future and would mean they’d have Ribeiro under contract until he’s at least 37.

Chances are Ribeiro won’t continue to put up the numbers he is right now for many more years. He’s posted 1.10 points per game this season through Tuesday’s loss in Pittsburgh, while averaging 0.77 per game since joining the NHL in 1999. Only once before has Ribeiro averaged over a point per game for an entire season, back in 2007-08 with the Dallas Stars, and he’s likely to face a decline in production over the coming years now that he’s reached his mid-thirties.

There is the outside chance that Ribeiro could prove his career averages wrong and continue to produce at his current level for a couple or few more years. But the Caps might also be able to get solid production from a less expensive veteran or a slightly younger player in that role, without having to take on the larger risk of a long-term deal, while also freeing up a million or so in cap space to spend on other needs.

Additionally, toward the end of any long-term deal given to Ribeiro, Caps prospect Filip Forsberg—who will likely join the team for 2014-15 season—could be pushing him for second line center minutes, depending on how quickly Forsberg adjusts to the NHL. By that point, Ribeiro could be tough to move at $5 to $6 million per year if his production has dipped.

So, if the Caps can sign Ribeiro to a reasonable two or perhaps a three-year deal prior to April 3, that’s one thing. Signing him ‘at all costs’ and for several years at around or well above what he makes now is another story.

If the Caps wait until the summer, they’re likely to overpay for Ribeiro, provided they’re able to keep him at all given the competition they’re likely to see from other buyers. And, unless he’s really enjoying Washington and sees a great future for himself with the organization that outweighs money, Ribeiro would be foolish not to play the free agency game before deciding to return to D.C. All of this creates an interesting situation for the Caps as April 3 approaches.

At no other time of year do NHL general managers give up more for players than they do at the annual trade deadline, as teams attempt to bolster their roster for the final stretch of the regular season and the playoffs. A solid second line center having a season like Ribeiro could bring a rather large return, such as a first or second round draft pick and a prospect or roster player, for example.

Another factor to consider is that with other free-agent-to-be centers Ryan Getzlaf now signed to an extension by the Ducks and the Panthers’ Stephen Weiss out for the remainder of the season with an injury, the market for Ribeiro is likely even better now than it was just a few weeks ago. If ever there were an opportunity for the Caps to sell high, this is it.

But, even though getting back big assets for a guy you might need to overpay going forward is attractive, the Caps should have a solid plan in mind to fill the hole that will be left at second line center for 2013-14 before they deal Ribeiro. There are several ways the team can do this.

Given the lack of top-tier, NHL-ready centers in the Caps system and a very young Forsberg still a year away from coming to the U.S., an immediate replacement for Ribeiro will almost certainly need to come from outside the Caps’ system.

One way to do this is through free agency but, as mentioned above, the pool for legitimate, second line centers looks thin this off-season and, just as some general managers tend to overpay in assets at the trade deadline, teams often have to overspend in dollars to land the most in-demand free agents each summer. Unless the Caps can find a veteran with a good year or two left in him, which is certainly a possibility, or come up big in the bargain bin, the best way for the Caps to replace Ribeiro might be the way they brought him to DC: via an off-season trade.

In one of the more ideal scenarios, the Caps could sell high on Ribeiro in the next two weeks to a team looking to make a run at the Cup this year and then trade for a center this summer when they might be able to give up a little less than teams normally do at the deadline. And through a trade, the Caps might find someone toward the end of a deal whose salary is less than what Riberio’s will be next season.

The Caps also might be able to find an offensive-minded center that comes without Ribeiro’s temper and penchant for complaining to the referees, which has resulted in three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in 29 games this season. His latest allowed the New York Islanders to score the game winning goal back on March 9.

Now, don’t get me wrong here as I map out these options for a Caps team without Ribeiro. It would be great to see the Caps keep the best second line center they’ve had in years, provided he cuts back on smashing his stick and yelling at refs when he doesn’t agree with a call. But the conditions under which it make sense to keep him, on a fairly short-term deal at close to the salary he currently makes, appear to be somewhat unlikely. And if the packages being offered for Ribeiro at the trade deadline get so valuable due to a bidding war—for example, two or three solid assets via a combination of picks and players—it might make sense for the Caps to unload him even if re-signing him to a short-term deal at his current salary is possible.

While Ribeiro’s numbers would be great to have again next season, balance between present and future is critical to maintaining a competitive roster season after season. If through smart trades now, the Caps can better set up their team for success the season after next—when Forsberg and highly-touted prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov will likely join a team that might already have prospect Tom Wilson with a year of NHL experience under his belt—they need to seriously consider it.

Next season should in no way be written-off though. The Caps need to find an approach where they can compete and have a shot at a long playoff run next year, but without committing to too many big contracts that could handcuff the franchise three or so years from now. A large, long-term contract for a 33 year-old having a career year like Ribeiro sends up red flags in this department.

But all present vs. future strategy and other complexities aside, if re-signing Ribeiro to a responsible deal isn’t looking likely and the Caps playoff chances appear bleak as April 3 approaches, he must be dealt. There’s simply too much to be gained at the deadline to risk letting Ribeiro just walk this summer while getting nothing in return.

For the counterpoint to this, see Ryan Boushell’s post, “To Trade or Not to Trade…”

Why Paul Gaustad makes sense for the Caps

I recently wrote that I thought Jeff Carter was the guy the Caps needed to go after instead of the safer options like Saku Koivu (although, with the Ducks’ recent run, he may be off the market) Derek Roy or any other center from Columbus.

Adam over at Kings of Leonsis recently brought up the name of Steve Ott, which is a suggestion as unique as it is interesting.  I hadn’t thought off Ott as an option but as I read Adam’s post, the name made more and more sense to me.

While I still want the Caps to pursue Carter first and foremost, Ott has been a distant second on my wish list but his remaining years on his contract make me a little hesitant.  Enter pending UFA, Paul Gaustad.

Why he fits

  • He is over 56% in the faceoff circle.  Between him and Jeff Halpern, the Caps would be set on draws.
  • If the Caps can’t bring in a legit 2C (in my opinion, the only one worth pursuing is Jeff Carter) then I think the next best option is to put Brooks Laich there (I’m not saying Laich is better than the other options, it is more of a Cost-Benefit analysis thing).  Bringing Gaustad in to play 3C would allow the Caps to put Laich with Semin and Johansson or Knuble on the 2nd line and give them a gritty shutdown line of Gaustad, Chimera and Ward.
  • I’ve mentioned on the site before that I think team toughness is an issue the Caps need to address.  I think adding a player who is listed at 6′ 5″ 220lbs with 580 PIM’s in 474 career games would go a long way in addressing that issue.
  • He is a UFA at the end of the season so we won’t be handcuffed with any type of long-term deal and his cap hit of $2.3 million for this season could fit on this team without GMGM having to get too creative.
  • He should come relatively cheap compared to other options that have been mentioned as trade deadline targets for the Caps.  I think a 2nd round  pick, if that, could get the deal done.  If not, I certainly don’t think any prospect/player added to the deal would be one that would make Caps fans cringe.

I spoke above about cost-benefit analysis, something that I think GMGM is generally very good at come deadline day (contract extensions are a different story).  He generally does a very good job at finding a player who is a nice fix for the Caps without mortgaging the future to bring that guy in.

In my post about Jeff Carter I said it was time to abandon that philosophy and I still largely stand by that.  However, if GMGM sticks to his general deadline day philosophy, I think a name that makes a lot of sense for the Caps is Paul Gaustad.

Caps at the deadline: What won’t, what should and what shouldn’t happen

Whether George McPhee’s job hangs in the balance over what the Caps do the rest of the season is pure speculation.  However, I know this: If I am George McPhee, I’d be approaching this trade deadline as if my job does hang in the balance.  The regression of this team over the past two years has been drastic and, if they miss the playoffs this season, the changes in the organization before training camp next year could be as well.

The Caps won’t be trading for Rick Nash

Stop. No way.  0% chance. I’m not even sure why the possibility of this happening has even been mentioned.  I thought the Prince Fielder to the Orioles rumors would take the cake for the most unrealistic local sports talk for the next few years.  Turns out those rumors have been topped.  First of all, the asking price is sure to be something far beyond what would make sense for the Caps.  I’d guess it’d start with a 1st round pick, Carlson/Orlov/Alzner (pick one) and a young center who wears #90 (more on him in a bit).  That right there is way too much and I’m not convinced that would get it done.  More importantly, acquiring Rick Nash would do nothing to even remotely address what this team needs.  The last thing the Caps need is another winger, even if that winger is an elite player.

The Caps should trade for Jeff Carter

This Carter-to-Caps talk has come up a lot recently, but for good reason.  It makes sense.  I’ve been a huge proponent of McPhee’s general trade deadline philosophy of bringing in the right part at the right time for the right price.  He hasn’t given up valuable long-term assets, hasn’t locked the club into any long/bad contracts all while making moves that seemed to adequately address what the team needs.  However, the 2nd line center issue has become the Achilles heel for a team that just can’t seem to get over the hump when it matters.   Eric Belanger, Jason Arnott and Sergei Fedorov  all made sense and were in line with the philosophy spelled out above.  The problem is none of these guys put the team over the hump and now this team stands in danger of missing the playoffs and that could very well cost McPhee his job.   So, while a guy like Saku Koivu or Derek Roy involves a lot less risk for the Caps, it is in line with an approach we have seen fail repeatedly.  The time has come for McPhee to stop making the safe and smart play at the deadline and make a bold all-in type move.

The Caps should not consider trading away any of their top 4 young d-men

True, John Carlson has had a rough year.  And yes, the day will eventually come when the Caps can’t afford Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dmitri Orlov and Mike Green.  But that day is not today and the Caps have time until their hand is forced on this issue.  They do run the risk of holding onto an asset only to see it depreciate in value but I’m willing to take that risk when it comes to these 4 guys.   These 4, and a couple other players, would be the untouchables if I’m George McPhee.

The Capitals should consider trading Marcus Johansson

Keep reading.  Even if you disagree, in the end you may at least understand that I’m not insane to suggest this.  First and foremost, I’m not advocating trading Johnansson. However,  I’m also not willing to take the idea off the table under all circumstances.  One of those circumstances is a deal that brings the Caps a player who could fill the 2C spot for at least the next five years (see: Carter, Jeff).  I wouldn’t trade Johansson for Koivu, Roy or any other possible short-term fix at 2C.  I’d only advocate trading our likely future 2C if in return we get a 2C who is the closest thing to an instant sure-fix as you can get.  Yes, we’d miss him.  Yes, he could become the 2C that we’ve longed for for entirely too long.  But the simple fact right now is that Johansson is not a solution at 2C and Jeff Carter is.  To be clear, I’m not even suggesting we dangle Johansson as bait for Carter.  What I am saying is that if his inclusion in a package for Carter was a make or break thing for the Blue Jackets, I’d make the deal.

It will be very interesting to see what McPhee does over the next couple of weeks.  The one thing that appears to be certain is that it’ll be anything but boring.

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