Never forget. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)
Tonight I was naughty and ordered pizza. A food coma knocked me out for two and a half hours on our living room couch. When I woke up, walked downstairs, and refreshed the website I helped create, I learned that the Washington Capitals traded everybody’s favorite French Canadian bro, Mathieu Perreault, for a fourth round pick and a minor league dude from Anaheim that George McPhee will probably say “can play.”
As an avowed fan who gets emotionally connected to some of the players, it’s — ya know — kinda upsetting. From a blogger’s point of view, Perreault was one of the most interesting players on the team. He had personality. He delivered many, many pageviews.
But when I check my emotion and look at the facts, this move is curious on a few levels. Mathieu Perreault was an underrated player who brought the team a lot of value. Since the 2010-11 season, the Capitals have been a much better team with Perreault on the ice than off. Despite his tiny size, Perreault is a talented puck-chaser and forechecker who drives play.
Perreault’s the type of player — especially when playing in the bottom six — who can create instant offense and take advantage of certain match-ups with his speed and skill. He can also join the top six in a pinch and has proven in the past that he can play well there.
While he was the tiniest guy on the ice during the Caps/Rangers playoff series, he still led the Caps in playoff points, tied with Mike Green and Joel Ward at 4. I know it’s a small sample size, but isn’t playoff performance something the Caps value? Isn’t that where this team has faltered over the years?
Simply put, Mathieu Perreault is a player that was blossoming, and ready for more of a prominent role on the team. Instead, when Mike Ribeiro signed with the Phoenix Coyotes during the first day of free agency in July, George McPhee said Brooks Laich would fill his void, and did not even mention Perreault. Perry was relegated to playing with the Capitals B team during this year’s preseason.
Did Perreault fall out of favor? Is McPhee looking for more grit a la the Toronto Maple Leafs? Does he want a more traditional player in the bottom six? Did Perreault’s request for more ice time last season sour him to management? Was Perreault the only option for a trade? Only McPhee knows.
Shedding Perreault’s $1.05 cap hit basically finalizes the Caps’ opening night roster. The team now has enough cap space to fit Tom Wilson, a six-foot four-inch rookie winger, on the team all season. Instead of sending Wilson back to Plymouth and letting him dominate the OHL for one more season, he will now fight for playing time in the bottom six. While I believe Wilson will turn out to be a good player for this team (because of his skating ability), this season is very important for his development. Will he be a lifetime bottom-six winger who fights more than scores? Is 6 to 10 minutes a night in an accelerated league going to hinder the 19-year-old Wilson from developing a scoring touch? It’s a tough decision, but the safer route would have been to send him back to the OHL where’d he dominate– and then bring back next season oozing confidence. At least with Perreault you know what you had– a competent role player with 3 seasons of experience. Wilson could have been brought on at the end of the season just like last year. Sometimes punting isn’t the worst thing.
This trade seems to lack long-term vision. It seems more a reaction to temporal forces– the roster deadline and the salary cap crunch. It’s not as if the team’s depth at center has been magically fixed with the signing of Mikhail Grabovski. While Grabo has been everything the Capitals wanted during the preseason so far, he’s likely only here for one year. He’s here to build up his stats to get a big long-term deal somewhere else in 14-15. Let’s not kid ourselves about that. Mikhail Grabovski in the long term is probably a mirage.
If you take Grabo out of the equation for 2014-15 and beyond, the Caps are faced with the same issues they’ve had for the last 200 years: depth at center. They have Nicklas Backstrom, Jay Beagle, and maybe Martin Erat and Eric Fehr as options. Here’s how Mathieu Perreault stacked up against them.
Caps prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, as we’ve discussed before, is probably not going to play center (if and when he ever arrives). Brooks Laich can play center, but he’s a natural at wing. Marcus Johansson can play center, but can’t win face-offs and does best when sheltered and playing with talented linemates. The Caps do not have many talented center prospects in the system. Next season, they will once again lack a number-two center and we’ll have to complain about it all over again.
To shed salary, the Capitals have lost a high-quality depth centerman in the prime of his career. The move opens up minutes for Eric Fehr (who led the team in preseason scoring) and checkers Tom Wilson and Michael Latta, but at a dear cost. The move hints that this team values sheer size over the qualities that are proven to win games, qualities Perreault certainly had.
You just have to think that George McPhee’s philosophy on building a team changed after losing to the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2011-12 playoffs.
“In the playoffs, we made a note after one of the games,” Capitals GM George McPhee said after he drafted Tom Wilson during the 2012 draft. “It was to remember these games when we’re at the draft. Remember how intense they are, how demanding they are, how physical they are, and make sure we get someone who wants to play in that kind of stuff.”
Trading the smallest guy on the team to make cap room for the new largest guy on the team is no coincidence.