Thursday, February 21, 2008

Trading Away the Farm

We are now less than a week away from the trade deadline and as always there are suspiciously calm waters around the league, with minimal movement save for one "blockbuster" deal between the Canes and Sens and a few players for picks deals.

And it's a funny time of year for Caps fans. There is a level of excitement here in DC that hasn't been seen in years, a sense that for the first time in a long time the Caps won't automatically see their name on the "sellers" list. In fact, straight from GMGM's mouth: "we're not going to be sellers". Not only crystal clear but a welcome change to years of fire sales and shipping away of beloved veterans.

However...before you start licking your lips and looking at the names being bandied about as trade fodder, remember one thing. Not being a seller does not mean being a buyer, and in this case it's probably best that they're not.

Being so tantalizingly close to a coveted berth in the postseason for the first time in years can do funny things to your head as a fan. For one thing, you go into games without that sense of dread that once plagued you; a season of ups and downs has convinced you that this team can in fact go into any game with the chance to win. And winning...makes you want to win more.

Because of that, there will be a group of fans who will absolutely rail on GMGM if the Caps do nothing in the next week, a knee-jerk reaction that is most likely not the right one. We have a tendency here to make the leap from believing we're a potential postseason contender to believing that, with a few select moves, this team can win it all. It's part of the attitude prevalent not only in a city that is attracted to winners but also in a set of loyal fans who have had their hearts broken too many times.

But patience is going to be key here. Yes, McPhee could go out and pick up some rent-a-player, trade away our young hotshots and picks en route to a playoff berth and a likely first round exit. Then what? All of a sudden you've given up core pieces of a team that, while no longer rebuilding, is still building - always building - for just a taste of playoff glory.

There are a few things to consider:

1) Right now this team is built on a foundation of youth and the knowledge that there is a great pool of talent just waiting to fill in spots in the coming years. It's been said before but it bears repeating - you cannot just sit on one group of guys and not keep your eye constantly on the future. Part of the philosophy behind the rebuild is that the Caps want a team that they draft, polish, and bring up through the ranks to create a sustainable cycle of players.

You need picks. You need hot prospects in Hershey. You need young guys here in DC. It ensures that after this year, after next year, and in all the coming years there will be a consistent flow of talent into this organization. It's how you not only build a consistent playoff competitor but, hopefully, an eventual Stanley Cup winner. Trading away a packaged deal of picks and prospects and maybe even a first or second year Cap for a player likely to depart July 1 undermines that plan and sets the team back in ways we won't even see right away.

2) There is no guarantee that some rental player gives you the final push you need. Think about this fact - of all the teams who will make deadline deals this year, there can only be one who will see results in the form of Lord Stanley's Cup, if any.

Yes, Doug Weight and Mark Recchi helped the Canes in 2006. They were key in helping Carolina win it's first championship for sure. Quick, name another deadline acquisition that pushed a team to the Cup in recent years.

Tkachuk and Zhitnik really helped out Atlanta against the Rangers, didn't they? How did Zubrus do in Buffalo? Ryan Smyth with the Islanders, Bill Guerin with the Sharks, Bertuzzi with the Red Wings - and that's just last year. Unless you already have a contender in place these big flashy deals often turn out to be busts, for one big reason...

3) Chemistry. You bring in players with big names and big salaries and you plop them down in a locker room of guys who, for the most part, have been playing together since September, if not longer. You do this right when the schedule gets the most stressful, when chemistry and seeing the ice and knowing your teammates becomes the most crucial. There's a reason why offseason free agent signings sometimes take a bit of time to produce, and it's because chemistry isn't always instant.

But bringing guys like that in during the offseason buys you time to create it - deadline deals do not. You have to mesh and mesh fast, especially if you're right on the bubble like the Caps are right now.

Frankly there is a lot to like on this team right now. When they lose it's not because of missing parts or lack of talent as much as it is lack of effort, the rare nights or even parts of nights when the Caps don't show us their best work resulting in blown chances and lost points. Looking down the roster there aren't as many holes as people think there are, and there is a nice balance of flashy talent and hard-working grit that has the potential to at least make some noise down the stretch.

Bottom line is this - the Caps will probably be in the fight for a postseason berth for the remaining twenty games of the year. They've made an improbable turnaround and continue to improve over last year, regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not. As fans, as hard as this may be, we have to be patient and know that we may have to wait a little longer but it will happen and it will happen when the time is right - not because of some player who will flit in and out of this organization faster than you can say "choke".

Photos courtesy of AP/Getty Images


Chris & Sarah said...

Well put.

spiff said...

Agreed. They win when they want to. They win when they work for it. Not for lack of offensive prowess, maybe sometimes for defensive immaturity. These guys have the tools to get the job done, and they have nearly done it in only half a season. The complete 180 from last year.

If they had just a couple of those games back that they had lost at the beginning of the year, there would be no bubble in the SE, the Caps would be up there looking back on everyone else, in a playoff berth.

dmg said...

Anyone who would rail against the Capitals for not making a move at the deadline doesn't know too much about hockey and probably needs to stop basing their view on transactions in the NHL on what they are able to do in their video games.

Shelby said...

Carolina game...ugh. Snapped stick, horrible special teams, another game without an Ovechkin goal, just not exactly pretty.

At least we finally got to see Laich's crib.