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3 Reasons Why the Washington Capitals Failed to Improve at the Trade Deadline

Dave UngarCorrespondent IIIApril 4, 2013

3 Reasons Why the Washington Capitals Failed to Improve at the Trade Deadline

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    For days leading into the NHL trade deadline, there was a cloud of mystery hanging over the Washington Capitals.

    There were so many moving parts that it was almost impossible to figure out in which direction the team would go prior to the April 3 deadline.

    Would Mike Ribeiro be traded or would he be signed to an extension?

    Would the Caps be buyers or sellers?

    Would they try and bolster their defense or perhaps try and get deeper on offense?

    Along the way, a funny thing happened—the Caps started winning more games and closed the gap towards taking over the lead in the Southeast Division to a mere two points.

    While Caps' fans were thrilled that the team was back in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race—and playing their best hockey of the year to boot—no one could really be prepared for what actually went down at the deadline.

    For those of us who watched it unfold, it is one of those things that will stick with you for a while. Just before the trade deadline had expired, word came down that the Caps had executed a trade, but no one knew who was involved.

    The first inkling something was afoot came from Pierre LeBrun, who tweeted the following:

    Caps have made a trade but not sure who yet

    — Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) April 3, 2013

    That was cryptic enough to get everyone worked up and it seemed that a deal had been done involving Ribeiro. Many Caps' fans then tuned into the 'Caps' Trade Deadline' broadcast on the Caps' website and we waited for word on what had gone down, and waited, and waited...and waited.

    A good hour after the trade deadline had expired, the news finally broke—and the collective jaws of many Caps' fans hit the floor.

    The Caps had traded away one of the best prospects in the organization, Fillip Forsberg, to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta  (via ESPN).

    Living in California, I could hear the groans of the Caps' faithful all the way across the country—and for good reason.

    It has already been called one of the worst trades in the history of the organization by many fans, some of them have been extremely vocal.

    That is probably a bit harsh as neither Erat nor Forsberg has ever actually played a game for Washington. Spend some time on a site like Russian Machine Never Breaks, however, and you will get a good feel for how disappointed Caps' fans were.

    Regardless of how bad the trade appears to be, it is just one example of how the Caps utterly failed to improve themselves at the deadline.

    There are several more reasons why the Capitals dropped the ball on what could have been a very good day for them, but here are three reasons why the Caps failed to improve themselves at the trade deadline.

1. Trading Away Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat Is a Mistake

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    Is this the worst trade in the history of the Washington Capitals? I doubt it. Regardless, it is impossible to know for sure for several years yet.

    Before we eviscerate this trade completely, let's get this out of the way—Martin Erat is a very good player. He is an excellent player and will certainly be a top-six forward for the Caps once he arrives in D.C.

    The reason this trade is a mistake is because of what the Caps may have given up to get a player who does not appear to be the game-changer the Caps will need to get to that next level.

    Take a closer look at Erat and his stat page and some of the concerns begin to take shape. Drafted 191st overall in the 1999 NHL draft, he has spent his entire career with the Nashville Predators and is playing in his 11th NHL season.

    From a durability standpoint, Erat is as solid as they come. Other than the 2002-2003 season, Erat has played in at least 60 games every season and in every season but two, has played in at least 70 games. He will be a reliable and injury-free player for as long as he plays in D.C.

    His production, however, is not so exciting. Erat has scored 20 goals in a season only three times. His best season was actually last year when he scored 19 goals, had 39 assists and a career high in points with 58. He played a very responsible game a year ago and is probably a bit underrated for his defensive skill.

    Had this deal been done in the offseason, it would have made more sense, but to do it now is a head-scratcher. This is particularly true because Erat's numbers are off this season. True, it has been a bit of an off-season for the Preds in general, but Erat still only has four goals, 17 assists, 21 points and a minus-seven rating.

    That means that Erat will be tied for 11th on the Caps in goals, tied for third in assists and fifth on the team in points. Those are all solid numbers to be sure—but are those the kind of stats that make anyone feel more confident about the Caps winning the Stanley Cup?

    Another area to be concerned is Erat's playoff history. After all, he is being brought in, presumably, to get the Caps deep into the playoffs. Still, Erat has played in 46 NHL playoff games with only eight goals, 15 assists and a career minus-seven rating. If this is the player who will lead the Caps to the promised land, then he sure does not have the stats to back that up.

    Feeling a bit unsettled yet? Then try this on for size.

    Compare Erat's playoff numbers to a player the Caps let go to a division rival this offseason in Alexander Semin. Semin has played in 51 playoff games with 15 goals, 19 assists and a minus-one rating. Will Erat be a harder worker in the playoffs than was Semin? Probably, but if we are talking about pure production here, then this move does not make a lot of sense.

    It needs to make sense when one considers what the Caps have given up. When Washington was able to select Filip Forsberg with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, it had to consider itself very lucky.

    Forsberg was one of the best shooters in the draft and had the potential to create huge matchup problems for the defense. The opposition had to respect Forsberg's pure skill, speed and skating ability or he would make them pay.

    He is relatively light at 6'2" and 181 pounds, but despite that, he is not afraid to get physical and actually seemed to look for someone to hit at times.

    Forsberg has been biding his time in Sweden, playing for Leksands of the Allsvenskan League.

    Last season, Forsberg netted 10 goals and had 10 assists in 53 games. This season, Forsberg had 15 goals, 18 assists and a plus-11 rating in 38 games. Forsberg was already so very good and was getting better.

    The whole thing makes little sense, especially when less than a week ago, general manager George McPhee was talking about wanting to get Forsberg to Hershey by April 5 (russianmachineneverbreaks.com). Instead, Forsberg won't be coming to Hershey or D.C.

    No one knows whether Forsberg will be a superstar or a super-bust. And no one knows just how good Michael Latta might be. Sure, Erat could absolutely flourish with the Caps under head coach Adam Oates' system. All of that is possible.

    But when you look at this on paper and compare the numbers, it looks like the Caps gave up too much.

    Forsberg looks like he has superstar potential written all over him. Erat is a good player, but one who has never demonstrated he has what it takes to help a team succeed come playoff time.Why McPhee really thinks things will be different in Washington is certainly confusing.

    McPhee's win-now attitude and his willingness to trade away one of the top prospects in the entire Caps' organization for a good—but not great—player is a move that could very well haunt the Caps for many years to come.

2. They Did Not Resolve the Mike Ribeiro Situation

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    Leading into the trade deadline, much of the speculation about the Caps centered around Mike Ribeiro and whether he would be traded or signed to a contract extension.

    The fact that nothing was resolved with Ribeiro was another failure on the part of general manager George McPhee and another reason why the Caps failed to improve at the trade deadline.

    The situation with Ribeiro was well documented as the trade deadline approached. Ribeiro has been the Caps' most consistent player this season and the one player the Caps have been able to lean on night in and night out. If the Caps are going to not just challenge for a playoff spot, but for something more, than Ribeiro needed to be a key part of their plans.

    Statistically, Ribs has been having an excellent season. He is second on the team in points with 35, third in goals with 11 and second in assists with 24. For much of the season, Ribeiro has actually been the leader in one, or all, of these categories.

    However, Ribeiro is also in the last year of his current contract and would be an unrestricted free agent at season's end—unless the Caps signed him to a contract extension now.

    Last week, things between Ribeiro and the Caps heated up some. According to Renaud Lavoie via SBNation.com, Ribeiro rejected a three-year contract extension from the Caps.

    Apparently, Ribs was serious as to comments he made in an interview with Katie Carrera that he was looking for a long-term deal of somewhere in the four-, five- or six-year range.

    But nothing has happened. Ribeiro was not signed to any sort of extension and was not dealt to a team that could have used him in exchange for talent around which the Caps could have built something. Instead, the Caps dealt one of the best prospects in the organization for a forward almost as old as Ribeiro and who has been far less productive this season.

    Now the Caps face the very real prospect of losing Ribeiro to free agency and getting absolutely nothing in return. Nevertheless, McPhee seems nonplussed by the whole situation. In an interview with NHL.com, McPhee had this to say:

    I wasn't interested in trading any of our guys that are going to be unrestricted players. They've played well for us this year and we have lots of time to talk. We'll see what the future brings. I just didn't think that it would be the right thing to do for our team and our fan base.

    For your sake George, I hope you are right.

3. They Did Not Get Any Defensive Help

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    One of the more frustrating aspects of what transpired with the Caps is that if Filip Forsberg was on the trading block, then it would seem that they could have possibly gotten someone better than Martin Erat back in return.

    In particular, if the Caps had dangled Forsberg out there, then perhaps they could have obtained a shut-down defender or someone who could have truly helped the Caps' blue line.

    As I mentioned in my trade deadline primer for the Caps, one of the biggest needs the Caps had to address was to get some help on defense. The Caps have used 12 different defensemen this season due to injuries, poor performance or some combination of the two.

    Jack Hillen was lost for 25 games, Tom Poti has been dealing with injuries and John Erskine just came back off of injured reserve. Just when the Caps got Hillen back, they then lost Tomas Kundratek. Dmitry Orlov missed the first 29 games of the season. Orlov came back, was productive with a plus-five rating—and was still sent back down to Hershey with Kundratek as soon as Erskine came off of IR (csnwashington.com).

    It has just been an ever-increasing and revolving door on defense for the Caps this season. This makes the decision of general manager George McPhee to bolster the offense, and not address the defense, very perplexing.

    There were some very good defensive prospects available for the taking and McPhee ignored them. One of the best who was available was Jay Bouwmeester. On Monday, Bouwmeester was traded from the Calgary Flames to the St. Louis Blues for a first-round pick and two prospects—defenseman Mark Cundari and goaltender Reto Berra (ESPN).

    If the Flames were looking for a goaltender or draft picks or prospects in exchange for Bouwmeester then isn't it reasonable to assume that they would have been more than willing to talk to the Caps about Forsberg and Michal Neuvirth?

    Bouwmeester was exactly the kind of blueliner around whom the Caps could build. He is only 29 and still had a year left on his contract after this season. This season he has put up decent numbers with six goals and nine assists, although his minus-11 rating is rather sad.

    Still, Bouwmeester was considered the best of the defensemen potentially available at the trade deadline. One has to wonder if GMGM even talked to the Flames about Bouwmeester.

    Taking Forsberg out of the equation, there were other blue-liners available—or potentially available—and the Caps made no move at all. For instance, Dan Boyle of the Sharks was probably available and could have helped the Caps as well—and the Caps probably could have kept Forsberg.

    Boyle has put up decent numbers this season with six goals and 11 assists. He also has a plus-one rating and there was virtually no chance he would have commanded as high a price as Bouwmeester.

    But none of it matters as McPhee was determined to, in his mind anyway, make the Caps Stanley Cup contenders by focusing on the offense more than the defense. This, of course, ignores the fact that the Caps are already ranked seventh in the NHL in goals per game with a 2.92 average, but are 20th in goals-allowed, giving up 2.89 per game.

    Because, after all, focusing on the offense at the expense of the defense worked so well for the Caps during the 2010 playoffs.

    Once again putting the emphasis on offense over defense ignores the fact that defense wins championships. It is a lesson that McPhee has repeatedly failed to learn and his failure this time, might end up costing the Caps dearly.

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