In the hours before the NHL trade deadline, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked where his team could improve, joked, “I don’t know what we could use right now. Bobby Orr is retired, so we’re not getting him.”
I guess it was Bobby Orr or nothing.
The Capitals watched the deadline pass and emerged from the war room declaring peace - no moves made.
The post-trade deadline atmosphere at the morning skate Thursday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex was decidedly subdued from a year before.
Last season, the building buzzed with the news that the Capitals landed three players - forward Sergei Fedorov, goalie Cristobal Huet and wing Matt Cooke.
It helped kick off a remarkable stretch run, as the Caps won 11 of their final 12 to make the playoffs.
Thursday, though, the buzz was replaced by a trade-deadline hangover. The emotions involved with the deadline - excitement about the prospect of additional help, or the fear of being shipped out of town - seemed to take its toll.
Boudreau said he was relieved the day had come and gone.
“Some guys get pretty nervous around that time of year,” he said. “I don’t think any of our guys wanted to leave. I think they are in a pretty good situation here. They played [in the two previous losses] like they were nervous.”
There was disappointment throughout much of Capdom about the lack of activity - in part because of the general notion that teams need to add components near the end for a successful Stanley Cup run, and in part because everyone was spoiled by the trifecta general manager George McPhee cashed in last year.
And the uneasiness was also fueled by the feeling that teams the Capitals may face in the playoffs - Boston, New Jersey and the New York Rangers - all got better with the deals they made Wednesday.
Boudreau reminded everyone that this is not last year’s team, fighting for a playoff spot.
“Up to two games ago, we were the fourth-best team in the National Hockey League,” he said.
He also pointed out that some moves don’t work as well as the ones the Capitals made last year.
“I remember when players have gotten traded at the deadline and done nothing,” Boudreau said. “It breaks up the chemistry of the team. I don’t know if that will happen. It is a crapshoot. We’ll see. I think New Jersey is really good already. I thought Boston was great already.”
Last year on trade day, Capitals players were huddled around the television in the locker room in anticipation of moves to be made. There was not the same anticipation on trade day this season. The expectations were not as high.
“This year I don’t think it will be a major overhaul, like it was last year,” Brooks Laich said before the deadline passed. “This year I think it might be a little more subtle. But at the end of the day, if we can ourselves a better chance to win, I think guys would be all for it.”
Well, it was subtle all right, and a day later, Laich was philosophical about the lack of action.
“Nobody wanted to be moved, obviously, and we’re all happy we are still here,” he said. “It’s not an easy time of year, but we are not going to use it as an excuse. You can worry yourself sick trying to play general manager, and I think that is a waste of time. I just watch, whatever happens, happens. [General manager] George McPhee didn’t make a move, which means he is happy with what he has in this locker room, which is a vote of confidence to all of our players.”
Here’s how subtle it was: The Capitals feel the best trade deadline move they could make was the guy who is already on the roster, but who hasn’t seen the ice in more than a year.
Brian Pothier has been out with post-concussion symptoms. But he has been practicing, and will soon get some game action with Hershey. The Capitals believe a healthy Pothier is more of a boost than perhaps Derek Morris, who was on the trading block and wound up with the Rangers.
“We expect Brian Pothier back in 10 days or two weeks,” Boudreau said. “I know he has been out for an awfully long time, but he has been practicing for two months straight, so he is in as good a shape as he has been ever. He just needs game preparation time. But if he comes in and can be what he was, he will be a really valuable addition. That is as good a trade deadline move that we could have made.”
Just not as exciting as last year.
Deals like that, though, were simply not there to be made, and as Donald Brashear said Thursday, “Everybody is waiting for the big deal, but if it isn’t there to be made, you are likely to be better off staying with your players.”
Unless you can get Bobby Orr.