Mike Green took a breath from his answer about the Washington Capitals, post-trade deadline. No moves were made, and the final stretch of the season already is under way.
“This is the team,” he said.
These are the Caps, for better or worse: a team teetering on the edge of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, and one that has been plagued by inconsistency since October.
Players are well aware of the flaws that this season has uncovered, though the sense of camaraderie and shared struggle might help bond this group since no key parts were shipped out nor brought in by general manager George McPhee.
“I guess he feels this is a team that’s going to get the job done. That’s comforting for us knowing that,”said Green, a defenseman. “It’s definitely different than in the past. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe we have all the belief in this room, and we’ve been working tougher all year.”
It’s different because this was the first time since 2008-09 that McPhee did not make a move on deadline day. The general manager said Monday that he believes this group “certainly” could make the playoffs and could beat anyone in the Eastern Conference if center Nicklas Backstrom returns from a concussion that has sidelined him 25 games.
Analysts have pointed out that not making a move signifies knowledge on McPhee’s part that this is not the year for the Caps to go for it by mortgaging the future. Given the landscape of the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins appearing to be more than formidable, Washington probably isn’t one or two players away from being a Stanley Cup contender.
Meanwhile, the likes of the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs stood pat as well.
“I just didn’t see any earth-shattering deals out there that tipped the balance of where teams are,” McPhee said.
The Capitals believe they’re right there the way the balance is in the East.
“It’s still a team where at times we’ve done a great jobs and at times we’ve looked terrible,” forward Jeff Halpern said. “[We’ll succeed] if we’re able to kind of string together more of those good games and solidify some of the things that we’ve been doing a better job of.”
A skid of six defeats in seven games earlier this month didn’t hurt the Caps, thanks to teams around them falling into similar losing patterns. Obviously, another slump could make the playoffs look like more of a fantasy than a reasonable expectation, and coach Dale Hunter knows that.
And he’s more than OK with keeping this team intact.
“That’s great. Definitely we should have won more games in the last bit here, but we didn’t,” he said. “It’s better now. This is your team, and now we have to win with this group.”
Veteran forward Mike Knuble said Monday it depends on the locker room how a team responds to moves or no moves at the trade deadline. Players on Tuesday seemed content that no one was sent packing.
“Sometimes you can throw a curveball in it, it can derail or the train can go off the tracks,” Green said. “We just got to reel it in here this last month and get ready to put ourselves on a playoff spot and then go for a long haul from there.”
Last year, the Caps added center Jason Arnott and defenseman Dennis Wideman at the deadline and Marco Sturm on waivers shortly before. Those guys weren’t the problem, but they also proved they weren’t the answer to winning the Cup.
Last offseason, when Brooks Laich signed a six-year, $27 million contract to stay with the Caps, he thought this team could win at least one championship.
“This is the team I was really excited about in the summer,” he said Tuesday, “and I still believe that this is a very good hockey team and a team that can get it done.”