With big, skilled centermen appearing to be scarce on the trade market, Jason Arnott looks to be a player that will garner serious interest as the deadline nears.
While the Washington Capitals have a secure grip on a playoff spot, currently sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, they appear to be in need of a spark to ignite the team's offense for the stretch drive towards the playoffs. The Capitals' powerplay, once considered to be the fiercest in the game, has sputtered this season, falling all the way to the 18th best in the league.
On paper, the team has an arsenal of offensive threats, particularly on the wings. While star forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin are all sporting uncharacteristically low offensive numbers, the team seems confident its new defense-first system will better prepare them for the post season. Whether or not that proves to be true, one thing appears to be obvious; the team needs to make an addition at the deadline if they intend on being a serious contender for the Stanley Cup in May and June.
With that in mind, here are five players that would make sense for the Capitals to consider prior to the February 28th trade deadline. In the past, George McPhee has never been one to be afraid of shaking his roster up, so there should be no surprised faces within the Capitals locker room if a fan favorite is gone before the NHL roster freeze. While the contract situations of each of these five players differ, they all appear to be in one way or another available on the trade market, and each warrant consideration from the Capitals management.
Cory Stillman is a proven playoff performer, and will be a hot commodity at the 2011 trade deadline. He's set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end, and while he's struggling to put up offensive numbers this season, he's still a two-time Stanley Cup winner and could add to any contending team's powerplay. The Capitals, who happen to have a woeful powerplay these days, could use Stillman's calm presence when on the man advantage, and could probably obtain him for a second or later round pick at the deadline.
When Carolina won the Stanley Cup in 2006, Stillman put up 26 points in 25 playoff games, which is why he's the kind of player a young contender would want. He's been through the grind of four rounds of the playoffs before and for a team that has only a handful of battle-tested veterans, he would be a welcome addition in Washington. While Florida remains in the hunt, they tend to drop out of the playoff race before the deadline and look to shed salary around that time. Look for Stillman to be moved, and if he does, McPhee should be among those at the front of the line.
While this seems unlikely, seeing as Carolina is in the Capitals' division, the Hurricanes could fall out of the playoff race as Buffalo appears to be surging towards the eighth spot. Jussi Jokinen is an attractive player for teams shopping at the deadline for a number of reasons, but for the Capitals one thing that could tip the scales is his ability to score in shootout situations. The Caps have lost overtime and shootout games constantly over the past two months, and the addition of a shootout specialist like Jokinen could help them secure ever so important points down the stretch drive. However, by that same token, his abilities in the shootout could be the factor that keep him in Raleigh past February 28th.
Like most other players being shopped at the deadline, Jokinen is an unrestricted free agent. Carolina has a history of renting players out for short periods of time, as they did with Joe Corvo last year to the Capitals, before reacquiring him on July 1st as a free agent. If the 'Canes begin to falter, Jokinen is a risk-free venture that McPhee should look into.
With the situation in Ottawa unclear with regards to the future of the management and coaches, it appears time to jettison all of their unrestricted free agents of value, including longtime stalwart Chris Phillips. One of the last remaining cornerstones from the Senators team that went to the 2007 Stanley Cup finals, Phillips is a solid defensive defensemen, who could be a valuable addition to contending teams looking to solidify their back end.
While the Capitals have more problems offensively than defensively, Phillips could be a good addition to the team, helping bolster both the second powerplay unit, and add veteran savvy for the playoff run. The stakes for Phillips may be high, as there are a number of potential (and rumored) suitors, so he may not be the most likely of candidates for this list, but I think the Capitals could benefit from adding another two-way, puck-moving defenseman like Phillips, especially for the tough stretch drive in the increasingly tight Eastern Conference.
Though overpriced at $4.5 million a year, Jason Arnott is a solid playoff performer, who will garner interest at the deadline. The Capitals are particularly weak down the middle, especially on the second line behind Nicklas Backstrom, which is why Arnott could help the team. This is the same Jason Arnott that scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime in 2000 for New Jersey, and the same Jason Arnott that captained Nashville to playoff births the past couple of Springs.
While he has a no trade clause, sources have said he would be willing to remove it to go to a contender, which is probably best for both him and the New Jersey Devils. The Devils need to acquire draft picks and prospects—low price assets for the future, seeing as they bartered a good chunk of that away in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal last Spring.
Jason Arnott would be a nice addition to a team that needs to get bigger down the middle, because Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson will simply get outmuscled by tougher teams like Philadelphia and Boston come playoff-time if they are relied upon too much. Arnott should be available in the days leading up to February 28th, and he's worth a look if you're George McPhee.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs fall (once again) out of the playoff race early in February, it's time for speculation regarding Tomas Kaberle's future in Toronto to arise. Kaberle has long been thought to have his differences with head coach Ron Wilson (who's own future may be in doubt), and is also an unrestricted free agent come July 1st, so the deal makes sense for both parties. Kaberle could chase the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004, and the Leafs could secure a draft pick or a package of picks and prospects in exchange for the talented Czech blueliner.
The Capitals' powerplay, which has been run by Ovechkin and Green at the points (at least on the first unit), since 2007-08 could use a breath of fresh air and a calming presence on the blueline. Though Kaberle has played on some dreadful Toronto teams over the past five seasons, he has been remarkably consistent with his point production, which means he should be relatively productive no matter where he is.
In Washington, they need to start capitalizing on the man advantage, and Kaberle would be the biggest step in the right direction the Capitals could take at the deadline. If the Capitals are able to secure Kaberle (at the right price of course), they could be setting themselves up for a compelling playoff run. In addition to all that Kaberle brings to the table offensively, he is also a solid defenseman in his own end, which is always a welcome sight for Capitals players, fans and management alike.