48 Hours and Counting
Just over 48 hours from now, the Washington Capitals and the other 29 NHL clubs will convene at Nationwide Arena here in Columbus for the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The Caps’ fan base has been eagerly looking forward to this offseason (as much as one can look forward to an offseason), mainly because “change” has been promised by the team’s ownership and front office. That change will not be as superficial as changing the color and logo of the team’s jerseys. The NHL Draft traditionally has been a hotbed of trade activity, and fans are anxious to see whether Washington’s offseason improvements will start Friday, Saturday, July 1 (when the free agent hunting season begins) or sooner or later.
The Caps have the fifth and 28th picks in the first round, and Washington could use a scoring line center, a veteran defenseman (or even two, accoring to some) and possibly a second line right wing. That’s a fairly sizeable list of needs, but the Caps do have the aforementioned pair of first-rounders. They do have a rather impressive stable of young and talented players within their system at the moment. And they do have an excess of checking line centers and young defensemen with good NHL upside.
Washington general manager George McPhee has been in town here for a few days now, and his peers from around the league are here as well. As is the case every year, conversations are taking place involving trade possibilities. McPhee keeps things close to the vest, which is why the usual trade and signing rumor sites never have reliable information about impending deals and contracts involving the Caps.
We do know that conversations are taking place. And we know that it takes two to make a deal. My own belief is that NHL GMs need to find a way to get more business done via the trade route, so that there is less that needs to be accomplished in free agency. It’s harder to make trades in the salary cap environment, but easier to make them in the offseason. For Washington, addressing one or two of its needs with a deal or two in the next 10 days makes even more sense.
The free agent market opens for business on July 1. Players almost always get overpaid in free agency, especially in the first few days. And generally players go to the teams offering the most money. But not always. Sometimes, going to an organzation with a chance to win a Stanley Cup can be more important than money. At this moment, not many free agents and player agents would classify the Capitals as a team with a chance to win a Stanley Cup. But a shrewd trade or two in the next 10 days could put a whole new paint job on it. If the Caps are able to change more than their sweaters in the next 10 days, they could make themselves a more attractive potential destination for impending free agents on July 1.
The Caps have one of the game’s best young talents in Alex Ovechkin. They have a glimmering new practice facility with state-of-the-art amenities for the players. As anyone in the area knows, Washington is a great city and can be a great place to live and work whether you are a family man or a young bachelor. Throw in a tangible willingness to make the team better, and Washington starts to look a lot more attractive to impending free agents.
At least I think so.
It’s win-win for Washington. If the team can pull off a deal to improve itself in the next 10 days, that’s obviously a terrific thing in its own right. But that same deal may end up making the District a more appealing destination for unrestricted free agents. That’s never a bad thing.