- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

If there was any doubt that the Washington Capitals need help on the blue line, that doubt should have vanished Saturday afternoon in Boston. True the Caps staged a valiant rally to gain a much-needed point and almost pull the game out but that should not have been necessary.
The trading deadline expires at 3p.m. tomorrow. The Caps are in dire need of a defenseman capable of playing inside the top four rotation. And if Kip Miller's "upper body" injury, as the Caps are disguising whatever is wrong with the wing, is long term, then the club also needs a playmaking forward, somebody who is thoroughly familiar with large, left-handed Czech right wings. Does the name Jan Hrdina sound familiar?
And the team wants to add some grit with some skill to the fourth line? Why not rent Doug Gilmour from Montreal. There are few more courageous players ever to wear an NHL uniform.
Repeated attempts to speak with general manager George McPhee or anybody else in the Caps' hierarchy yesterday were unsuccessful so the club's intentions are not known.
McPhee was most successful in plugging last-minute gaps just before the 1998 playoff run when he brought in Brian Bellows and Esa Tikkanen. Bellows provided strong leadership and proven playoff experience that helped carry Washington to the finals; it could be argued that the shot Tikkanen missed in the finals against Detroit robbed Washington of even the very slim chance it had to win.
McPhee has to have more rabbits of that nature in his hat because the Caps need help. Jason Doig has shown he can be a positive physical force to have on your third pair during the season but he might be too physical for postseason, when any shorthanded situation might be fatal. Joel Kwiatkowski has not shown on a consistent basis that he has the necessary skills to play at this level, especially during postseason.
There is nobody in the system that is ready to step in, or they would be here already. Nolan Yonkman, who the team hopes turns into the next Mark Tinordi, has broken a number of bones in his body this season and is out; J.F. Fortin, who had a strong season a year ago, has "back spasms" and hasn't played since Dec.30.
Some of the best available defensemen already have been moved. Toronto picked up Glen Wesley from Carolina and Colorado landed Bryan Marchment from San Jose. Still, if McPhee hurries he has some good people to pick from, including:
Alexei Zhitnik, Buffalo, $3,550,000. Yep, salary is a problem but he can play both ways and gives you another point man on the power play.
Bob Boughner, Calgary, $2,300,000. Doesn't have Zhitnik's finesse but is steady on defense and the Flames are also holding a garage sale, or should be.
Aaron Miller, Los Angeles, $1,700,000. Great salary and his contract expires at the end of the season. That's the problem; the Kings have given him until midnight tonight to sign a new deal or he is gone.
Mathieu Schneider, Los Angeles, $3,500,000. A bit pricey but he becomes available if Miller stays in L.A.
Sean Hill, Carolina, $2,500,000. Bret Hedican is the guy you really want from the 'Canes but Hill adds a very physical touch.
Todd Simpson, Phoenix. Again, the guy you really want from the desert is Teppo Numminen but at $4,750,000, it's a good bet many teams will pass. Simpson makes $1,400,000 and isn't half bad.
People to avoid:
Phil Housley, Chicago, $2,500,000. His act wore thin a long time ago.
Patrice Brisebois, Montreal, $4,000,000. If you're not a good fit in your hometown, options are very limited.

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