- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

NHL teams with postseason aspirations always are looking to make deals to improve their clubs at the trade deadline, seeking that final missing piece of the puzzle.

Sometimes it works out perfectly, and the new players help push a team deep into the postseason. But there are also plenty of instances when the additions did not have the desired impact and players from that team wind up playing golf earlier than planned.

The success often depends on how quickly the new guys blend in with their teammates.

When you see teams do these big blockbusters like [Keith] Tkachuk going to Atlanta, it doesn’t necessarily create instant success, Washington Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig said. When a player plays in a city for seven months, he becomes comfortable and gets to know the guys, and that is something that isn’t on his mind on the ice. When you come to a new city, you have to worry, ‘OK, am I impressing the coach? Am I impressing the guys? How do I have to act around here?’

It has been seven years since the Caps made a significant move at the trade deadline to bolster the roster for a postseason push. In March 2001 Washington obtained Trevor Linden, Dainius Zubrus and a second-round draft pick from Montreal for Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and a first-round selection.

The idea was to add a big veteran center in Linden to help against some of the elite offensive pivots in the Eastern Conference like Philadelphia’s Keith Primeau, Ottawa’s Alexei Yashin and Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux.

Washington won five games in a row before the trade (the last winning streak of such length for the franchise), including wins both at home and on the road against Pittsburgh. But something went amiss after the deal.

The Caps lost five straight, then regrouped for a 4-2-2 finish to the regular season. They faced Lemieux and the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, but adding Linden and Zubrus wasn’t enough, and they lost the series in six games.

During that era, it didn’t matter who we brought in. We always seem to lose to Pittsburgh, Kolzig said. Yeah, it didn’t [work]. We lost two kids in [Bulis] and [Zednik] who were a couple of characters in our room, and it does take away from the chemistry. I think it is a very fine line [general managers] have to walk when they make deadline deals.

There is no perfect formula. Two years ago Carolina added Doug Weight and Mark Recchi, and they proved vital to the Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup run. Last season Anaheim was not active at the trade deadline, but the Ducks survived the Western Conference while other teams that made big moves (like Nashville and San Jose) did not.

Measuring team chemistry is also an imperfect science, but this Caps team — with three new additions, including a goaltender in Cristobal Huet to challenge Kolzig’s position as top man in net — certainly will be an interesting case study.

If the new players fit and the guys in the dressing room find harmony, the Caps could be dangerous. Should relations in the room become fractured, another season without the playoffs almost would be a certainty.

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