- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. | NHL teams got a jump-start on their trade deadline action Tuesday, as a few prominent players changed places and the Washington Capitals reshaped their blue line while making a couple of minor deals.Amid a career renaissance, ex-Caps right wing Jaromir Jagr, whose uninspiring stint in Washington exemplified a stretch of futility for the franchise, was sent to the Boston Bruins from the Dallas Stars for a draft pick and two prospects.

In the 41-year-old Jagr, Boston added a scoring winner in the hopes of keeping up in the Eastern Conference arms race with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who acquired Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray last week.If the Caps get into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, it’s likely they will see the Penguins or Bruins in the first round. The moves they made Tuesday are not expected to play a major role in tipping the balance, but the defense has a different look for the stretch run and next season.The biggest move was activating John Erskine off injured reserve, paving the way for the 32-year-old to return as a substantial piece of the puzzle. Amid a bevy of injuries, the Caps have used 12 different defensemen in the first 36 games.

“I think we’ve got a lot of depth right now; everybody’s proved that they can play,” Erskine said. “Going into the playoffs, you need a lot of depth on D.”

When the Caps lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they were forced to use minor leaguer Sean Collins as they tried to stave off elimination. This season has been a testament to organizational depth.

“You always seem to need more ‘D’ than what you have,” general manager George McPhee said last week. “So I’m comfortable with what we have. And we’ll see what develops. But I like having lots of defensemen around.”Jack Hillen is set to be around for the next two seasons after signing an extension worth $1.4 million. Hillen emerged as a top-four defenseman since returning from an upper-body injury March 16. He was thankful to get this deal completed Tuesday with his wife due to give birth within the next two weeks.”I just wanted to get it settled and get it behind me so I can just concentrate on hockey and play the game,” the 26-year-old said. “Stuff off the ice, it’s nice when it takes care of itself, and when that’s what happens, you can just focus on hockey and have fun playing.”

Center Mike Ribeiro insisted he has been able to compartmentalize with contract negotiations ongoing between agent Don Meehan and the Caps. Ribeiro, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent July 5, said Tuesday morning that his focus was on Washington’s game with the Carolina Hurricanes.”I’m sure you guys would’ve heard about it if there was any progress [about an extension],” Ribeiro said. “The progress is that we’re here in a position to be in the playoffs and we’re playing a team that played [Monday] night.”

Ribeiro conceded he will be more nervous Wednesday as the 3 p.m. deadline grows closer. The 33-year-old wants a long-term deal to re-sign with Washington.

He is not alone in being on edge and not knowing what the future brings. Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville is among those who could have a new team soon.

“I understand the business of things,” Pominville told reporters in Buffalo. “I understand [GM Darcy Regier] has a job to do and he’s trying to do his best to do what’s best for the team and the franchise.”

The same is true for Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and others whose names have been bandied about in trade talks.

The Caps made a couple of minor league deals Tuesday, reacquiring enforcer Joel Rechlicz from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for forward Matt Clackson and getting tough guy Dane Byers from the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Garrett Stafford.

Those moves will affect the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, but the Caps’ signing of University of Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt could make a difference for the NHL team right away.

Schmidt was a highly sought-after college free agent and will practice with the Caps on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s utilized by Washington in an NHL lineup from the get-go,” analyst Corey Pronman wrote for Hockey Prospectus. “If you don’t count [Dmitry] Orlov as a prospect anymore, Schmidt instantly becomes the top young defense prospect in the Capitals organization.”

What the Caps’ defense will look like Thursday against the New York Islanders is unclear, since Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek have been sent to Hershey.

Counting Schmidt and the injured Tom Poti, Washington still has nine defensemen available, but those guys aren’t letting that worry them.

“I think as a player when you start thinking about numbers and start thinking about that stuff it takes your focus away from the game,” Steve Oleksy said. “It’s part of our job to be ready and to play to our full potential game in and game out. I think when you start looking at that stuff, I think it’s tough to do.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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