Brooks Laich was having nothing of the discussion. Asked about the trade that sent Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals alternate captain brushed it off as insignificant.
“Doesn’t have anything to do with our club,” he said.
Not directly, though the Eastern Conference's top teams on a double-digit-game winning streak making such a substantial move affects more than just Iginla and the Penguins. Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero acquired Iginla days after trading for Dallas Stars left wing Brenden Morrow and San Jose Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray, strengthening a team that appeared to have few weaknesses.
But Laich has seen this movie before.
“I’ve seen teams try that,” he said. "Other teams have loaded up, and sometimes it can disrupt chemistry.”
Laich did not specifically reference the 2009-10 Capitals, but he didn't have to. Like these Penguins, that group had a 14-game winning streak just before the trade deadline. George McPhee didn't load up quite like this; he traded for forwards Scott Walker and Eric Belanger and defensemen Joe Corvo and Milan Jurcina while Washington was cruising toward the Presidents' Trophy.
It's not as though the presence of those three newcomers caused the Caps' first-round flame-out against the Montreal Canadiens, but chemistry is a funny thing. In Iginla and Morrow, the Penguins brought two captains into a room that already has a leadership structure in place with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik.
“I think it depends on the players that you have. If you have a lot of guys that are easy-going and open and good to talk to, then it shouldn't be a problem,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “But at the same time it is tough to see someone come in and take your spot, so you hope that everyone is in it to win it and doesn’t care about that and just cares about the end result. But it can be tough and it may be easier said than done. It can create ripples in the dressing room, and you don’t want that.”
Adam Oates experienced one of those bad situations when the Caps traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers at the deadline in 2002.
“I got traded at the deadline and I don’t think it helped,” the Caps' coach said. “To be honest, I wasn’t a guy that played great right away. I didn’t. I needed to feel part of the team to get acclimated. It took me a little time.”
Oates played 14 regular-season games and five in the playoffs for the Flyers, who gave up goaltending prospect Maxime Ouellet, a first-, a second- and a third-round pick to acquire the playmaking center only to be bounced in the first round. He had three goals and seven assists to finish the regular season but was held to two assists in the 4-1 series loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Oates acknowledged that not everyone struggles with a new team. He said Brett Hull could make a seamless transition.
“Some guys can walk right into a new locker room and it doesn’t bug them,” Oates said. “It’s like they’ve been there the whole time. And some guys need time to fit in and get acclimated.”
The Penguins will soon find out which category Iginla fits into. This is the first trade of his NHL career; the Stars dealt him to the Calgary Flames as a prospect in 1995 and he has been the face of the franchise for the vast majority of his time there.
“To see him in any jersey besides a Flames jersey is going to be weird for everybody, I think,” said Alzner, who makes his offseason home in Calgary. “He's the most popular guy in that city, the face of that city. It's just very strange that he's not going to be a Flame anymore.”
Now Iginla is just one piece of what looks like a Stanley Cup-contending puzzle in Pittsburgh. Center Jason Arnott and defensemen Dennis Wideman, acquired at the deadline in 2011, looked like they could have similarly filled roles on that Caps team, which finished with the top seed in the East. That playoff run ended with a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Right wing Troy Brouwer, who won the Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 when Washington had the league's best record, has never been on a team that added this much at the trade deadline. As a veteran player, he knows it must be an adjustment for Iginla, Morrow and Murray.
But he doesn't think it's a concern.
“I watched Morrow’s interview and he’s got a lot of experience, a lot of leadership and he said he’s not going to come in and try to change too much,” Brouwer said. “He’s just going to be the player that he is. As long as guys fit in like that, I think it shouldn’t be a problem.
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