One year after the Washington Capitals were one of the busiest teams on NHL trade deadline day, general manager George McPhee decided his best move was to do nothing at all.
McPhee had conversations with other teams about trades Wednesday, including a deal for star defenseman Chris Pronger, but the Caps ultimately added no new players on a day when 45 players and 21 draft picks changed hands.
“Just because we didn’t do anything doesn’t mean we didn’t do the right thing,” McPhee said. “I told ownership that I don’t sense anything is going to happen here. We’ve got the fourth- or fifth-best record in the league, and we’ve done a good job. If there was something there that would have upgraded our club, we would have done it. It just didn’t make sense.”
McPhee acknowledged discussions with the Anaheim Ducks about Pronger, one of the game’s top defensemen, but said the asking price was too high. Pronger has one more year on his contract after this season at $6.25 million, and the Ducks decided not to trade him.
McPhee also mentioned the Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester as a defenseman the Caps liked as an upgrade. He said, however, that he didn’t enter into talks with the Panthers because he didn’t want to give up a lot for a player who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Bouwmeester also stayed with his team.
Derek Morris, whom Phoenix traded to the New York Rangers, was also of interest to the Caps. McPhee said clubs expressed interest in Simeon Varlamov, Karl Alzner and John Carlson during trade talks, but those players were more than he was willing to yield.
“We’d like to be a good team for a number of years and be knocking on the door every year rather than load up and make a run and then be scrambling for a couple of years,” McPhee said.
McPhee said Alzner, who could return to the Caps from Hershey at some point this season, is one reason he didn’t get involved in talks for defensemen like Jordan Leopold and Niclas Havelid, who ultimately were traded.
Another is Brian Pothier, who was sent to the Bears for a conditioning assignment Wednesday. Pothier has been out for nearly 14 months because of post-concussion symptoms. He has been practicing with the team, and the next step in his recovery process is game action in the American Hockey League.
”He’s going to play on a progression, and he gets through that and there are no symptoms, we will bring him up here and see what he can do,” McPhee said. “If he doesn’t get through that, then he’s probably done. If there are symptoms, his career is over.”
If adding another defenseman was the top possibility for the Caps, dealing for a veteran goaltender to backup Jose Theodore seemed like another viable option. Again, McPhee deferred to the players already in his possession.
Varlamov has been practicing with the Bears and is expected to make his return from a knee injury this weekend. McPhee said veteran Brent Johnson also could be back in time for the playoffs.
A year ago the Caps collected goalie Cristobal Huet, center Sergei Fedorov and wing Matt Cooke on the final day trades could be made. The trio of moves helped boost the Caps past the Carolina Hurricanes into the playoffs.
This season, with his team comfortably ahead in the Southeast Division, McPhee resisted the urge to make drastic changes. The Caps lost their past two games in ugly fashion, but they have not lost more than three contests in a row all season.
“Sometimes your instincts tell you a little tweaking to a deal here or there and it is going to happen if it is a deal that is moving closer together. I just didn’t feel it,” McPhee said. “Some years it is easy to do, and other years there’s just nothing out there that makes sense for your club - and no deal is better than a bad deal.”
Notes - Alex Ovechkin left practice with a foot injury, but coach Bruce Boudreau expects him to play Thursday against visiting Toronto. Ovechkin took a slap shot off his right foot and limped to the dressing room with assistance, but Boudreau said it’s just sore.
Defenseman Staffan Kronwall was assigned to Hershey.