Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Twenty-five NHL general managers woke up yesterday with a team within six points of a playoff berth.

That parity — unseen before this late in a season — is a major factor in the overwhelming uncertainty as the trading deadline looms at 3 p.m. today.

With so few teams out of contention, the group of general managers looking to add a player for a playoff run far outnumbers those willing to subtract veterans in a typical trade deadline dump.

“You have to be careful when you are selling. If you’re three points out of a playoff spot and you start selling off, it is not a good message for your fans,” Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “We did it the last few years because we were far enough out that it was the right thing to do. It is a good league this year. It’s great that so many teams are in it.”

The Caps are one team very much still in the mix. McPhee met with the media for about 20 minutes last week, and he made one point clear — for the first time in several years, the Caps will not be among the sellers.

Last season the Caps traded Dainius Zubrus, Richard Zednik and Jamie Heward at the trade deadline. The year before they dealt Brendan Witt. And going back to the season before the lockout there was the major fire sale, when Washington jettisoned Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, Michael Nylander and Mike Grier is a span of six weeks.

In fact, the most recent trade the Caps have made to bolster their roster near the deadline was in 2001, when the team added Trevor Linden, Zubrus and a second-round pick for Zednik, Jan Bulis and a first-rounder.

While the Caps are in a position to contend for a playoff spot for the first time in five years, McPhee made it clear he does not feel he has to be an aggressor today.

“If there is something that would help and isn’t too expensive, then we would certainly talk about it,” McPhee said. “We like what we have. We like the players we have and the people they are. We have people in Hershey that can come up and help.”

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau concurs.

“I don’t think there is a lot of tinkering to be done,” said Boudreau, who has helped engineer an improbable turnaround since his appointment on Thanksgiving to put the team in this position. “I like the group we have. If something changes, something changes, and I’ve got to assume it will be for the better.”

Should McPhee be compelled by an offer, he has plenty of assets at his disposal. Years of selling off players for prospects and draft picks have left the organization with plenty of each.

While some of those players are contributing at the NHL level, the Caps have other highly thought of players at various minor league levels. Washington’s prospects were ranked sixth in the league in the fall by Hockey’s Future.

There are also the extra draft picks McPhee has acquired. The upcoming draft has been hyped for more than a year as one of the deepest in a long time, and the Caps have four of the top 60 selections (one first-rounder and three seconds). They also have an extra second-round pick in the 2009 draft from the Brian Sutherby trade.

“We will use them the right way,” McPhee said. “If there is something that makes sense, then we would use a pick to do it. But I’d much rather be sitting at the draft table and trying to nail it and acquire more good players for the organization.”

Today’s game


When: 7 p.m.

Where: Verizon Center

TV/radio: CSN, FM-107.7, AM-1500

Goalies: Wild — Niklas Backstrom (23-11-4, 2.50) or Josh Harding (11-12-1, 2.84). Capitals — Brent Johnson (7-8-2, 2.67) or Olie Kolzig (21-19-6, 3.03).

Injuries: Wild — Out: LW Derek Boogaard (back). Capitals — Out: C Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff), RW Chris Clark (groin), D Brian Pothier (concussion). Doubtful: D Jeff Schultz (knee strain). Questionable: C David Steckel (flu).

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