- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

Just give me a minute to pick my jaw up off the floor, and I'll weigh in on the Capitals' lollapalooza of a trade Tuesday.
There, I think I've popped it back into place. In a week or two, I should be able to eat solid food.
OK, on to the Adam Oates deal. Was that a stunner or what? To recap, just before the trade deadline, the Caps sent a 39-year-old center albeit one leading the league in assists to Philadelphia for a top goalie prospect (Maxime Ouellet) and the Flyers' first-, second- and third picks in this year's draft. Are you kiddin' me? If I'm a GM and I give up my No.1, No.2, No.3, I don't just expect to get Adam Oates, I expect to get Drew Bledsoe, too.
It's amazing the lengths some teams will go to to give themselves a shot at a championship. And the Flyers obviously feel the Stanley Cup is within their reach. Why else would they mortgage a good chunk of their future to acquire a player who can up and leave as a free agent after the season? This is what happens when you haven't won the Cup in 27 years, when you've come up empty in the finals five straight times. You get a little delirious.
Of course, if Philly goes all the way, Bobby Clarke will be hailed as a genius, the Isaac Newton of ice hockey. Unless, that is, Ouellet turns into Martin Brodeur or one of the draft picks becomes the next Joe Sakic. Then there might be a few grumbles especially if the Caps knock the Flyers out of the playoffs down the road.
From the Caps' standpoint, though, this might be one of the best moves they've ever made provided George McPhee can put the picks to good use. One way of looking at it is that McPhee essentially traded Oates for Jaromir Jagr. How's that, you ask? Well, in the Jagr deal, McPhee parted with a former first-rounder (Kris Beech) and two former second-rounders (Michael Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk). In the Oates deal, he's getting those picks back and maybe a little bit extra.
Think about it. Beech was the seventh pick in '99, Sivek was the 29th and Lupaschuk was the 34th.
The picks the Flyers just traded are currently the 18th, 57th and 87th and Ouellet was the 22nd pick three years ago. It's pretty darn close, if you ask me.
Once again, McPhee's patience has paid off, as it did last season when he never gave up trying to re-sign Peter Bondra and eventually got his man. This time he waited until the last possible moment to move Oates, hoping his price would go up. And sure enough, it did. The Flyers had two centers get hurt Monday night, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau, and found themselves in a serious bind. I just wish George had hemmed and hawed a little longer. He might have gotten Clarke to throw in the Liberty Bell or the Rocky statue.
Just as a frame of reference, when the L.A. Kings traded 36-year-old Wayne Gretzky to St. Louis at the '96 deadline, they got Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, a No.1 (Matt Zultek) and a No.5 (Pete Hogan). Only Johnson has had much of an NHL career, and he's no All-Star. Do you like the Oates deal any better now?
Good thing McPhee didn't listen to me. I thought he should have dealt Oates earlier in the season, after Adam had scored only 12 points (and no goals) in the first 15 games and said so in print. But in the months since, No.77 has shown he's far from through; he's fourth in the league in scoring and playing about as well as he ever has for the Caps. The Flyers are counting on him to work his magic on the power play and stir John LeClair and Mark Recchi from their slumbers; he probably won't disappoint them.
The Caps, meanwhile, have had little but disappointment this season. They were a long shot to make the playoffs before peddling Oates, and now they're Zippy Chippy. (Don't put too much stock in their 3-0 win at Colorado the other night. They've still got five more road games beginning tonight at Toronto before they make it home. By then, it may be academic.)
So we need to change the way we look at the Caps. They're no longer a Team of Today; they're a Team of Tomorrow. McPhee has stockpiled an incredible number of picks in the upcoming draft. He got Vancouver's No.1 for Trevor Linden. He got Tampa Bay's No.2 in exchange for a No.2 last year. He got Chicago's No. 4 for Joe Reekie. If the draft were held today, the Caps would have six picks in the first two rounds the ninth, 18th, 27th, 35th and 39th, as well as the 57th. The last time McPhee had so many tickets in the lottery, he came away with Beech, Sivek and Lupaschuk. And without them, there would have been no Jagr.
That should take some of the sting out of the Caps' sorry season. They might have fallen short of their objectives, but help is clearly on the way.


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