- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

MONTREAL | Two league executives who requested anonymity said they expect Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee to actively pursue trades during this weekend’s NHL draft, when several elite players could be on the move.

Multiple reports Thursday said Sergei Fedorov had signed a two-year contract with Magnitogorsk, but a team source said his agent, Pat Brisson, told the Caps the deal is “90 percent done” after originally saying it was completely done. If Fedorov does sign, he joins Viktor Kozlov as Caps free agents who have left for the Kontinental Hockey League.

“We’ll certainly be involved in discussions,” McPhee said earlier this week. “We’re going to call every club and see what they’re doing and see if there is a trade that makes sense for us and for somebody else. We’ll see where that goes.”

The Caps hold the 24th pick in Friday’s first round of a draft that is considered deep - but maybe not on the level of the great crops of 2003 and 2008. Recently, players like Philadelphia defenseman Luca Sbisa (19th overall in 2008), Phoenix forward Viktor Tikhonov (28th in 2008) and St. Louis forward David Perron (26th in 2007) have shown guys don’t have to be top-10 picks to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

Still, if the Caps are looking for someone to bolster next season’s roster, a trade is a more likely avenue. The departures of Fedorov and Kozlov would leave the Caps short two top-six forwards, so finding a scoring winger - preferably one who will go to the net - and a second-line center would become a priority. Versatile forward Brooks Laich could be given a chance to fill the center position behind Nicklas Backstrom, but someone would have to replace him.

Internal candidates include Eric Fehr, who had offseason surgery on both shoulders; captain Chris Clark, who has also had injury problems; and a few players from Hershey, most notably Oskar Osala.

Given the team’s finite wiggle room under the salary cap, a package of prospects and draft picks might not be feasible if a high-priced player is the return. If McPhee finds a way to move one of his own high-priced players, specifically center Michael Nylander or goaltender Jose Theodore, then his options would grow precipitously.

The ultimate wild card could be Alexander Semin. The right wing, who had the third-most points on the Caps last season, remains an enigma. He is also a restricted free agent after next season and will earn $5 million in 2009-10. The Caps may not be able to afford a long-term contract for Semin after next year, especially if the cap drops for the 2010-11 campaign. Including Semin in any deal would ensure a big return, but it’s a high-risk maneuver.

McPhee was adamant that his team will not try to fill a specific need with the first-round pick if the Caps don’t include the selection in a trade or eschew making a play for veteran help altogether. And even though Washington’s organizational depth chart is flush with goaltenders and defensemen, that doesn’t mean McPhee’s staff will be searching for a forward in the first round Friday.

“It’s not fair to say that,” McPhee said. “We’re going to take the best players we can take. If we take seven left wingers because those are the seven best players, than that’s what we will do.

“If you are doing the right things, you are always taking the best player and you find other ways, whether it be trade or free agency, to fill your holes. You want a left wing that can play versus a right defenseman that’s not as good. If you are looking to fill certain positions, sometimes you make players out to be better than they are.”

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