The Washington Capitals were in trouble before they acquired veteran center Jason Arnott at the NHL’s March 1 trade deadline. Eight straight victories later, the Caps were headed towards the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The 36-year-old Arnott was a key component of Washington’s conquest of the New York Rangers in the first round, but he was a non-factor in the subsequent shocking loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and has now moved on to the St. Louis Blues.
However, even with Arnott, whose overtime goal won the Stanley Cup for the 2000 New Jersey Devils, not returning, Washington’s locker room won’t be lacking for guys whose 2012 playoff beards may sport flecks of gray.
After faltering in four straight postseasons with one of the NHL’s youngest teams, general manager George McPhee went in the opposite direction when the market opened last Friday signing defenseman Roman Hamrlik, 37, goalie Tomas Vokoun, 34, and forwards Jeff Halpern, 35, and Joel Ward, 30, while trading goalie Semyon Varlamov, 23, and bidding farewell to forwards Boyd Gordon, 27, Matt Bradley, 32 and Marco Sturm, 32.
Unlike playoff perennial Arnott, three-time All-Star Hamrlik, two-time All-Star Vokoun and Ward haven’t skated with Lord Stanley’s Cup. Neither has former Caps captain Halpern. However, their combined 45 years of NHL experience should be a terrific resource for such under-25 Caps as goalie Michal Neuvirth, defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson and forwards Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom.
It’s hard to know in July how much Hamrlik, Vokoun and Halpern will have left come next spring, but after four successive early exits from the playoffs with a young team headed by Alex Ovechkin, McPhee should be commended for trying a different approach without having to relinquish any of his core talent.
As is permitted during the offseason, the Caps are already over the salary cap with restricted free agent Alzner still unsigned. His eventual deal will put the Caps more than $2 million over, meaning they can’t keep everyone on the roster that McPhee has put together. Owner Ted Leonsis has hinted that more trades – Alexander Semin?, Mike Green? — could be in the offing.
But two months after being ignominiously bounced from the playoffs by the Lightning, the Caps already have a different, more mature and seemingly, better roster without having subtracted a major long-term piece.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.