The Ripple Effect

Nothing that happens in the NHL occurs in a vacuum. In the salary cap environment, every contract and every trade has a ripple effect on future contracts and trades, and that might be even more true at trade deadline time.

The deadline is still a bit more than 24 hours away, but some off-ice events of the past few days are likely to have an effect on what transpires between now and Tuesday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

From a Washington standpoint, the most interesting development might be the four-year contract extension the Bruins lavished upon winger Marco Sturm. Boston re-signed Sturm to a four-year deal worth $14 million. Sturm is just a couple months younger than Washington center Dainius Zubrus, and the two players were taken just six choices apart (Zubrus went 15th to Philadelphia, and Sturm 21st to San Jose) in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.

Zubrus has played 670 NHL games, totaling 134 goals and 352 points. He came into the league as a winger, but has played center the last few seasons. Zubrus has put together two straight 20-goal seasons and is on target for a second straight career year.

Like Zubrus, Sturm has exactly 20 goals this season. But he has 20 fewer assists and thus, 20 fewer points. He doesn’t have Zubrus’s versatility, either. In 659 NHL games, Sturm has totaled 171 goals and 348 points.

Aside from position, there are some similarities between the two players. If the Bruins paid Sturm $14 million for four years, shouldn’t the Caps be willing to pony up a similar amount to lock up Zubrus? Maybe not.

There are those (and I’m one of them) who will tell you the Bruins paid too much for Sturm. He’s a nice player, a good guy, and he’s put together five straight 20-goal seasons. That’s a good level of consistency. But when it’s all said and done, Sturm is a second line winger in the eyes of most. And if you pay a second line winger $3.5 million a year for four years, you still have five other top six forwards, a bunch of defensemen and probably a goaltender with their hands held out looking for similar money, if not more.

The Bruins have been more than willing to spend in recent seasons, doling out big money and long terms to the likes of Alexei Zhamnov, Dave Scatchard, Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. For all that spending, the Bruins finished four points ahead of Washington in the standings last season. They’re six points ahead of the Caps in the standings this season, with sagging hopes of a playoff berth.

There are any number of different ways to construct a team in this brave new salary cap environment, and we’ve seen several teams go off in several different fiscal directions over the past two seasons. Some have been successful, and some have not. When you have $48 million to spend (for argument’s sake, let’s assume that’s the Cap for next season), that means your average player can be paid about $2 million. And remember, you don’t want to spend right up to the cap. That’s proven to be a huge hindrance for several clubs in the last two seasons. Is Sturm really worth almost double what you would pay the “average” player? You can debate that, but I don’t think he is. To me, he’s worth somewhere closer to $3 million, maybe even less.

It’s not my money, and it’s in the eye of the beholder, as they say. But I’m guessing the Sturm deal isn’t going to make it any easier for the Caps to come to terms with Zubrus, who came to Washington at the trade deadline six years ago. After Sunday’s 3-2 loss to New Jersey, Zubrus was philosophical about his future.

“Yeah, it crosses your mind,” he said, when asked if he had thought that Sunday’s game might be his last as a Capital. “You have to be realistic. I don’t know if I did play my last game [for Washington], but it’s a good possibility that I did. We’ll see what happens. You think about it more between periods or before the next game. But during the game you’re focusing on that next shift and that next play. We’ll see what happens over the next couple of days.

“Honestly, I don’t want to talk too much about it. If it happens, it happens. If I go somewhere, I go somewhere. I’ve been traded before at the deadline. It wouldn’t be that new to me. It’s not in my hands now.”

Carolina’s deal for Anson Carter (the Canes sent a fifth-rounder to Columbus for the ex-Caps winger) was a good one for the defending Cup champs. I’m not sure why Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean could not extract more of a price from a team that is currently without two of its top six forwards (Erik Cole and Cory Stillman) because of injury. Had MacLean waited until Tuesday, he almost certainly would have done better. Like Boston, Columbus has not exactly proven to be a bastion of hockey wisdom in recent years.

Anaheim GM Brian Burke has been outspoken about the high prices being demanded by the “selling” GMs around the league, and he has been even more outspoken about how he’s not going to pay those prices. Over the weekend, Burke shipped defenseman Shane O’Brien (ostensibly the Ducks’ No. 5 defenseman) to Tampa Bay along with a third-round choice in exchange for goaltending prospect Gerald Coleman and a first-round choice. The betting is that Burke will use that first-rounder in a bid to upgrade his defense or add another forward before Tuesday’s deadline.

The thinking is similar in the Montreal-San Jose trade, where the Habs dealt blueliner Craig Rivet and a fifth-rounder to San Jose for defenseman Josh Gorges and a first-rounder. The Habs have been seeking a second line center for quite some time, and they had some depth on defense. With the first-rounder obtained from the Sharks, the Canadiens may become a player in a deal that will upgrade their forward ranks.

Rivet will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and the Sharks have a very green blueline. He will lend some veteran stability back there in San Jose the rest of the way.

Atlanta paid a hefty price for Keith Tkachuk (a first-, a second- and a third-round choice plus Glen Metropolit), and also did so for defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, who is on the books for $3.5 million for each of the next two seasons. Mired in a 2-7-2 slide, the Thrashers have the league’s worst record over that span. Atlanta was flying high early in the season, but has tumbled from the top spot in the Southeast. Thrashers GM Don Waddell must be feeling the heat. He guaranteed a playoff berth last season, only to watch his team fall short. If that were to happen again in 2006-07, he would likely pay the price with his job.

Tkachuk is a big winger who has been playing in the middle this season. With Steve Rucchin out because of a broken foot, the Thrashers having been muddling along with Eric Belanger (a recent acquisition from Nashville), Bobby Holik, Jim Slater and Niko Kapanen as their four centers lately. None of the four is a top six guy, and it could be argued that Rucchin no longer is, either. Tkachuk is going to have his hands full down in Atlanta. He doesn’t have much of a résumé as far as the postseason is concerned. Nearly a point-per-game player (911 points in 958 games) during the regular season throughout his NHL career, Tkachuk has 27 goals and 53 points in 81 postseason tilts. He is minus-16 in the playoffs, and has but one goal in his last dozen playoff games.

With the soon-to-be-35-year-old Tkachuk off the table, the contending clubs now turn their hungry eyes to the likes of the Blues’ Billy Guerin and Washington’s Zubrus. Although the New York Islanders are still in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase, they’re reportedly mulling offers from several Western clubs for All-Star winger Jason Blake, currently in the final year of his contract.

Detroit found the price for Tkachuk to be too costly. The Wings, Canucks and Ducks look to be the Western Conference teams with the most potential use/need for a player like Guerin or Zubrus. Dallas is fairly thick up the middle, but could certainly use some additional scoring punch. Minnesota is said to be looking for a center and a defenseman. Zubrus could be useful to the Wild, but Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough sounds like he is looking to make a “fine tune” type of deal more than a major move.

Out east, Buffalo has been banged up lately, and a sizeable center would not hurt, especially if concussed Chris Drury is expected to miss significant time. Montreal and Toronto are also thought to be sniffing around for additional top six forward upgrades. The Rangers have been in need of a second line center all season, but their playoff hopes are sagging like captain Jaromir Jagr’s shoulders. New York seems to be growing tired of Jagr’s act.

The Caps are likely to do most of their dealing with Western clubs, but Caps GM George McPhee has not ruled out making a move with an Eastern Conference rival.

With the likes of Guerin, Blake, Bryan Smolinski, Owen Nolan, Gary Roberts and others being bandied about, Zubrus seems to be beneath the radar of much of the North American hockey media for now. A quick scan of Monday’s morning papers in the 30 NHL cities did not turn his name up in association with any other clubs, but the Caps are finding that there is a good deal of interest in his services right now. If he and the Caps can’t come to terms in the next 24 hours, Zubrus is likely to have a new address. And he could provide a big push for a team with designs on a Stanley Cup title.

Some other noteworthy items:

Bryan’s Best — Former Caps coach Bryan Murray recently became just the fifth NHL bench boss ever to record 600 wins. The Ottawa Sun asked Murray to name the top five players he has ever coached in a career where he has been behind the benches in Washington, Detroit, Florida, Anaheim and Ottawa. The Caps heavy list is as follows: Steve Yzerman, Scott Stevens, Sergei Fedorov, Rod Langway and Bengt Gustafsson.

Skrastins Scratched — Avs defenseman Karlis Skrastins saw his NHL record (for a defenseman) 495-consecutive-games-played streak come to a half on Sunday when a knee injury forced him to the sidelines for Colorado’s game at Anaheim. Skrastins recently surpassed Hall of Fame defenseman Tim Horton, who had set the standard at 482 consecutive games played nearly four decades ago.

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12 Comments on “The Ripple Effect”

  1. david brownstein Says:

    Zubrus is a great player and i have enjoyed watching him play for the caps the past years. In the direction that the team is going (younger, more draft builded then trades) i think Zubrus is a necessary player for the caps to keep some tradition, same players and older experience. I was sad to see Halpern go, who had similar roles. I hope the caps keep Zubrus for the team and for the fans and keep on with the inside building. Unless he is necessary to go for a top scoring defender, which we really need. Thanks for your time.

    Long time Caps fan,

  2. LB Says:

    Mike: Since you are so good at explaining the finer points, do you think you could explain this to me (sorry, hockey newbie)

    How does Olie sitting for the season help us in the draft?

    Poolesville, Md.: You think it might be a good idea for Kolzig to sit the rest of the season? It would make sure he’s completely healed and refreshed for next season while possibly helping with the draft position as well…

    Tarik El-Bashir: Yes. I don’t want to see him in goal until next September.

  3. russ werner Says:

    why sit cassivi for 6 games yes brent has been great in net but give freddy some playin time dont let him sit send him back to hershey BEARS BEARS BEARS WOOOOOOOOOO

  4. Scai Says:

    @ LB: Assuming Olie’s your No.1 goalie cause he helps you win more games than your backup, you have to conclude that, when Olie’s injured or sitting you’re losing more games than when he’s playing and thus get a higher Draftpick.

    About Zubrus: I think it would be very good thing for the Caps to lock him up for Sturmlike money and term. He’s extremely valuabale to the Caps on and off the ice, a leader, one of the very few veterans left, and is definitely gonna fetch more on the open market in the summer than 3,25 Mio per year. He’s a good 2nd-line center and the Caps should finally start keeping/adding assets instead of selling them. I don’t believe those Capsfans’ pipedreams of Gomez, Datsyuk and other bigname UFACenters are gonna come true over the summer, wether Zubrus stays or goes.
    If the Caps start next season with Zubrus and Bäckström as their top 2 Centers it will be a good and relatively inexpensive solution.

  5. Shnammy Shnow SHnow Says:

    Zubrus isn’t going to get traded. He is a really good player! I don’t think they will trade him. ANd he’s my mom’s favorite player (even though that has nothing to do with this…) I don’t think he’ll get traded….no way…

  6. Jeroen Says:

    I don’t see the Zubrus trade being such a big deal, in fact it might help the team in the long run. Imagine that he gets traded for a good draft pick or prospect. His contract ends this summer after a [hopefully] good run into the playoffs, and he resigns with us on terms that satisfy both sides. Suddenly we’re up on playoff experience and a new prospect/pick which we can use to bolster our position.

    So long as the Caps make sure to get Zubrus back this summer, trading him off will provide us more benefit than hastily signing him (in my opinion).

  7. pauliina Says:

    it will be a big deal if they trade zubrus. HES AWESOME, not just because his pretty face but hes just really good. Even if he becomes a free agent in july doesnt mean that hes coming back to washington and I dont think they should take that chance.. they’d be VERY stupid if they did. Its not like they’re winning much now and to give up a player like him would be really DUM!

  8. marcusmarcus Says:

    This is more of a curiosity than anything else. With the trade of Nycholat can the Senators send him straight to their minor league team and call him up only when necessary or do the same rules apply and he would still have to clear waivers to go down at this point?

  9. Jacquie Says:

    I’d like to see Olie riding the pine the rest of the season, too. And the next and the next. It kills me that he FINALLY gets 20 wins near the end of the season and everyone is touting how great he is. OLIE is not the goalie of old, although looking at his records, trophy aside, was he ever that good? When Jagr, Lang, Gonch, et were on the team, they weren’t losing because they weren’t playing hockey, they were losing because Olie’s softie aveage went from 1+ to 2 per game. Is he a great guy? I hear yes but don’t know for a fact. Is he a great goalie and the future of a stanley cup contending team? HECK NO! Ia there a clause written in everyone’s contract, including Beninati and Reekie that they MUST say something nice about him or be penalized? Ever hear the VS. or NHL commentators talking? HELLO, WAKE UP DC!
    You’ve gotten enough high draft picks with Olie in front of the goal? He’s the common denominator. The team today is good enough to make the playoffs, without him, but not to win the stanley cup. With a quality goaltender, it all changes. They traded Nycholat? Is there a reason for that? Defenseman for defenseman? Nycholat, Erskine and Jurchina have made a huge difference….DUH!?! Where is Em?

  10. Tom Shelton Says:

    This is in response to Jacquie’s comments. What the hell are you talking about? Olie is THE reason why we are where we are right now. If George and Ted would give the poor guy some more experienced defense in front instead of all these inexpensive and inexperienced kids he would have more than only 20 wins. Not only that but look at the stats for goalies over the past 5 years prior to the lockout. Olie is number 2 in wins for ALL NHL goalies behind Martin Brodeur. This season, he is 8th in shots against and of those 8 has the least amount of ice time and is 6th in save % and 7th in goals against. Dont think that with the Alex’s there is a bright spotlight at the end of the tunnel. Look at Ovie’s plus/minus stats. Of the top 50 league leading scorers he has the 2nd worst rating. For a guy who led the league with the most goals, that sucks. Get your facts straight if you wanna bash the cornerstone of the franchise.

  11. Steven Says:

    Trade: Ollie, why… move for him to go to a team that has a chance to go to the playoffs. This is a business and sometime the fan favorites have to go to win. There are 3 other goalies in the organization that are good and the Caps can win with all 3. Stats are nice if you live in the past but they do not say what will happen in the furute. The Caps could get good draft choices or players for Ollie. We need to resign Zubrus for decent money and then sign and bring over the center that we drafted last year Backstrom. That way we could have at least two decent scoring lines. Alex will never be a great assistance on D but what we need him most to do is score or set others up. Also we need at least 2 top notch D-men and at least one who can score. Improve the D and your Ogets better because you get fast breaks and the speed that the Caps have will help. I wonder what it would take to get Jason Spaza or Holik? I dont mind playing for the future but when will the future be here? Trading Zednick was a good idea and we received good compensation. Im still trying to figure out the trade of Nicholat. As tight as the Caps are with money I dont see Gomez or any other front line center or D-man coming here. How do we improve……start by trading something that we have that we have several of……goalie.

  12. abu ameerah Says:

    wow! i can’t recall having ever seen such analysis on Hockey.

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