Having spent seven seasons with the St. Louis Blues, a team he joined after a distinguished collegiate career, T.J. Oshie hasn’t had to worry that much about changes or transitions.
That is, until Thursday.
Oshie was traded by the Blues to the Washington Capitals, who surrendered right wing Troy Brouwer, minor-league goaltender Pheonix Copley and a future draft pick.
The move came a day after Washington seemingly addressed its concerns at the position with the signing of free agent Justin Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup winner who spent parts of the past seven seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.
Now the Capitals have a pair of offensive threats to balance their top two lines — and finally have someone reliable to play alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
“I’ve always played with very good players — players that have played in the Olympics, but never players that have put up numbers like those two guys have,” Oshie said. “To get out there with them would be amazing. I’d be excited. I’d feel kind of like a kid in a candy store, I guess, playing with that caliber of player.”
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan had long believed that if he were to add a top-six winger, his team’s meager salary cap space would force him to do so through the trade market.
That avenue appeared closed as of late Wednesday night, when the Capitals signed the 33-year-old Williams to a two-year, $6.5 million contract at around 11 p.m. Williams hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and with the Kings in 2012 and 2014, when he received the Conn Smythe Trophy after he had three goals and six assists in victory over the New York Rangers.
MacLellan and Capitals coach Barry Trotz even spoke with a tinge of finality early Thursday afternoon when addressing Williams’ addition and the changes to the roster. The general manager said Washington was able to acquire Williams on the first day of the signing period because he “became more affordable to us.”
Then, shortly before 5 p.m., the team announced the trade for Oshie — which, Brouwer said, had to have come together fairly quickly, because he had been talking to Trotz at the Capitals’ practice facility that morning about some of the changes the team had made.
“I know the team has been trying to find somebody that can fit and play on the Capitals’ top line,” Brouwer said. “I know they tried to find it in a few different places, and you know, talking to a few people already, it seemed like this deal came together pretty quickly, and as a result, you don’t know if players going back and forth are always going to be available.”
Oshie, 28, had been suggested as a possible trade target for much of the offseason, especially after the Blues, the Central Division champions, lost in the first round of the playoffs. With general manager Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock each returning, and each vowing changes, Oshie thought that meant he’d be moved this offseason.
His fears were temporarily allayed last weekend, as he thought he would be traded during the NHL draft, but then received the call Thursday afternoon that he’d be heading east.
“Then after a couple minutes, I started getting excited, and then I was just really excited to get on with the next step in my career,” Oshie said. “I haven’t thought about the trade and going to Washington. It’s a team that had a really good chance of winning the Stanley Cup last year, and I’m just excited to be included as a piece of the puzzle.”
Oshie, who had 19 goals and 36 assists over 72 games last season, had a career-high 60 points in 2013-14, when he had 21 goals and 39 assists over 79 games. He is perhaps best-known nationally for his play for the United States in a preliminary round game against Russia in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when he took six of the eight attempts during a shootout.
He has two more years remaining on his contract, at $4.175 million each season, while Brouwer has one season and $3.66 million remaining on his deal.
That extra cost will further cut into the Capitals’ spending room. Signing goaltender Braden Holtby, left wing Marcus Johansson and center Evgeni Kuznetsov, all of whom remain restricted free agents, has been Washington’s priority, and MacLellan said he needed to keep in mind the financial allocations before signing Williams.
Brouwer was acquired via trade with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011 and has been a reliable second- and third-line player for the Capitals over the past four seasons. He consistently hovered near the 20-goal mark, finishing last season with 21 goals and 22 assists — including the winner in the Winter Classic against his former team.
Copley, 23, figured to open next season as the top goaltender for the AHL’s Hershey Bears, and the Capitals topped off the deal by sending the Blues a third-round draft pick in 2016.
Williams, meanwhile, chose the Capitals because of his role and a perceived chance to win the Stanley Cup a fourth time. He joked that it was his 6-year-old son, Jaxon, who made the decision for him to play in Washington.
“He said, ‘Daddy, if we don’t go back to L.A., I think you should go to play with Ovechkin, because he’s the best,’” Williams recalled. “You watch the awards and you see how kids think. It’s pretty sweet. I just hope he has one of my jerseys on instead of Ovi’s at games.”