- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2011

With the Washington Capitals struggling to recapture last year’s on-ice performance, Capitals General Manager George McPhee made a splash at this year’s trade deadline, landing both New Jersey Devils center Jason Arnott and Florida Panthers defenseman Dennis Wideman in separate deals Monday.

The Capitals acquired Arnott in exchange for center David Steckel and a second-round pick in 2012. While Arnott is an unrestricted free agent this summer, Steckel still has two years left on his current deal.

“We’ve got guys that have been around a long time and specifically with Arnott he’s been a captain of an NHL team, he’s won a Cup and those kinds of intangibles I think are something we want in the room like we had when we picked up Fedorov [in 2008,]” McPhee told reporters.

Since the beginning of the season, the Capitals have struggled to fill the role of second-line center, using Tomas Fleischmann, Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault in the role. But with the 36-year-old Arnott, the Capitals get a player who can balance Washington’s offense and also has a Stanley Cup ring, which he won as a member of the Devils in 2000.

“I’m at the end of my career,” Arnott told the Star-Ledger of Newark after waiving his no-trade clause to come to Washington. “I want a chance at another Stanley Cup. I think Washington has a good potential to be a Stanley Cup championship team.”

Like the Devils, Arnott has struggled this year, scoring just 13 goals and 11 assists with New Jersey, although he is just two seasons removed from a career-high 33 goals he scored with the Nashville Predators. He also has spent time with the Edmonton Oilers and the Dallas Stars.

Steckel, who has 11 points in 57 games with Washington this season, earned some notoriety for his hit on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby in the Winter Classic.

Wideman, who had 9 goals and 24 assists in 61 games with the Panthers this year, was dealt for Washington’s third-round pick in the 2011 draft and prospect Jake Hauswirth. He also has a connection with Dale Hunter, who has his number hanging in the Verizon Center rafters as one of four retired by the Capitals.

“My first reaction was excitement,” Wideman told reporters via a conference call. “I’ve played a lot against Washington … I’ve heard so many great things about the organization from my junior coach, Dale Hunter.”

“Everybody knows what kind of player Dale was and what he meant to the franchise,” Wideman said when asked about what Hunter had told him about the Capitals. “[He had] just positive things to say about the franchise … I had the pleasure of playing for Dale for three years, and playing for him got me to where I am today.”

McPhee also told reporters that he consulted with Hunter before acquiring Wideman, and the retired Caps’ great said of Wideman he “would block a shot with his face if he has to win a game.” That endorsement was good enough for the Capitals to make the deal.

Wideman is a seven-year NHL veteran who also has spent time with the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins during his career, notching a career-best 50 points with Boston in 2008-09. The defenseman also has one more year left on a four-year, $15.75 million contract extension he signed with the Bruins in 2008.

“I don’t think we could’ve made a better defensive pickup than that,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s a really good defenseman; he plays lots of minutes.”

“Their team is a little bit different [from Florida], with the firepower they have,” Wideman said of his new team. “I’m going to help out wherever I can and pass the puck to [Nicklas] Backstrom and [Alex] Ovechkin.”

Wideman also added that despite hearing trade rumors involving his name, Washington wasn’t one of the destinations he thought he might be going, and that he was excited to be heading to the nation’s capital.

“I was obviously in a hockey city with Boston last year, and you come down to Florida, it’s quieter,” he said. “To jump into the spotlight in Washington … obviously, there’s going to be a lot more pressure.”

Hauswirth, who turned 23 this month, has 10 goals and 4 assists in 37 games as a forward with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays this season. He joined the Capitals as an undrafted free agent in 2009 and spent parts of two seasons in Charleston.

Marco Sturm, whom Washington picked up from the Kings via the waiver wire on Saturday, noted that he thought Wideman was the Bruins’ best defenseman last year during the playoffs — but also was unfairly a target of the Boston fans.

Sturm, who turns 33 in September and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, got his first workout with the Capitals on Monday as well. He joins Washington after an injury-filled season in Los Angeles, during which he was limited to 17 games and just 4 goals and 5 assists.

“I feel pretty close [to being healthy] and just got to get back to playing,” Sturm said.

Still, after the initial “shock” of being waived by the Kings, Sturm said, “I’m excited to be here, and it’s a great hockey team … I get back to playing my style of hockey, using my speed. There’s great talent here.”

NOTES: To make room for Arnott and Wideman under the salary cap, defenseman Tom Poti and Eric Fehr were put on long-term injured reserve … Injured defenseman Mike Green, who is currently in his hometown of Calgary to attend a funeral, will rejoin the Capitals Friday before a two-game road trip to Florida, but also may be out for “weeks” … McPhee also said of Dmitri Orlov, the 19-year-old Russian prospect who just joined Washington’s AHL affilate in Hershey this past weekend, that although he has gotten glowing reviews so far, he cannot join the Capitals this season … D.J. King, who was placed on waivers by the team on Saturday, went unclaimed, and will remain on the team. “It’s all out of my control,” King told reporters earlier in the day. “Obviously, I want to play hockey.”

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