Photo: Kevin Hoffman
When the Washington Capitals traded Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat and Michael Latta last year, an upset and cranky me commented on my own website,”Horrible trade. I’m embarrassed to be a Caps fan today.” To the two people who downvoted me, I will accept your apologies via email, tweet, and/or public groveling.
I didn’t hate the trade because the Caps were trading Forsberg (though I have the utmost confidence he will be a productive player in the NHL). I hated the trade because of the timing and philosophy behind it. The Capitals, worried about losing Mike Ribeiro to free agency, acquired another aging and expensive player. They loaded up for a playoff push despite being pretty dang far away from Stanley Cup contention– and in the process they gave away seven years of a talented young player who just a month ago was named MVP of the World Junior Championships.
A year later, we’re back at the crossroads. General Manager George McPhee — as well as Ted Leonsis and the rest of the organization — have some tough decisions to make about the team’s philosophy moving forward. The Caps are the sixth worst team in the league in the standings, three of their players have publicly requested trades, their defense is holey, and their offense lacks chemistry. But they also have a bevy of talented, young players knocking on the door for roster spots or waiting for bigger roles: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, Riley Barber, and Philipp Grubauer.
So are the Caps rebuilding, retooling, or loading up?
Whatever they decide, these next few weeks will be pivotal for the Capitals. They must make trades ahead of the March 5th deadline. But here’s one deal they better not make: trading for Buffalo’s Ryan Miller.
On Monday afternoon, former NHL goaltender and now NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes talked likely trade destinations for Miller during an appearance on NHL Live. He-who-has-no-five-hole thought Washington could be a potential fit.
I don’t know that if [trading Miller] is inevitable, but I’ve talked to people in both Buffalo and St. Louis.. You’d think that’d be a natural fit for the St. Louis Blues simply because of the fact that Ryan Miller is a world class goaltender and he’s been excellent for the Buffalo Sabres this year. He hasn’t been whining. He’s been really focused, dialed in Olympic year. …
I see St. Louis being a fit. I also see Washington being a potential fit. Both St. Louis and Washington have young goalies in return as assets. Jake Allen certainly being one of them in St. Louis who is playing for their minor league team, the Chicago Wolves. Then if you look at the Washington Capitals, they have three young goalies as assets they could potentially move. That’ll be interesting to see.
This makes no sense. For a bunch of reasons.
First and foremost, goaltending is not the problem in Washington. The Caps have one of the most inexpensive goalie duos in the NHL: Michal Neuvirth ($2.5M) and Braden Holtby ($1.85M). The value George McPhee has gotten in net is one his biggest achievements and one of the team’s biggest strengths. Holtby has proven himself to be an above-average goaltender on the NHL level. Better yet: he’s kicked it up a notch in the playoffs, sporting a .931 save percentage and a 2.04 goals-against average in 21 career playoff games.
Secondly, while Miller is an elite goaltender, he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Even to get him at the quarter pole of 2013-14, the Caps would have to pay a steep price, dealing away either Grubauer or Holtby, and mortgaging their future even more. All that to solve a problem which isn’t even a problem: the Caps already have good goaltending.
Some might bring up the Huet deal in 2008, which arguably helped the Caps make the playoffs that year. Let’s chat about that for a minute. When the Caps made that deal, they were a different team. They were young, dominant on the puck, and had the flexibility to take on a bad contract. Even more: they needed a shot in the arm. Olie Kolzig had been withering in net, and as much as I liked Brent Johnson, he wasn’t the guy to deliver the Caps to the promised land for the first time since 2003.
The Capitals of 2013-14 are a world away. They’re not young, they’re not weak in net, and they’re not flush with cash, which brings me to my next point.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Caps are cash-strapped. A slew of overpayments and the Erat deal are really limiting the team’s options. Check out Capgeek.com. Only four teams have less cap space than Washington: two of them are Cup contenders (Chicago and Pittsburgh) and a third (Toronto) is the richest team in the league. The Caps have just $750K to play with in their quest to make the postseason.
Ryan Miller makes $6.25 million, and he’s definitely going to get a pay raise on his next deal. Unless they moved metaphorical mountains, the Caps would not be able to re-sign him. Even to fit Miller under the cap now (which, again, they don’t need to do) would require finding trade partners interested in players like Martin Erat and Brooks Laich, who take up $9 million against the cap but are not desirable assets. The glut of overpaid veterans on the Washington roster just don’t make for good trade bait.
Ryan Miller is a great player, but he’s a solution to a problem the Capitals don’t have. The Caps are in the top ten of thrifty teams when it comes to goaltending. Their peers are Calgary, Chicago, Colorado, Edmonton, New York Islanders, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Jose, and Tampa Bay. Just two of those teams have gotten better five-on-five goaltending out of their guys: Colorado and Tampa. There are certainly problems on the Caps roster, but they’re not between the pipes.
I don’t know why Kevin Weekes sees Ryan Miller and the Caps as a fit. It seems like we hear this rumor around this time every year, but it’s never made less sense than right now. Washington is certainly going to have to be aggressive this spring– perhaps more than they’ve been in half a decade– but that aggression should be focused entirely on the 189 feet in front of Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Now let’s all lie down until the rumors go away.
Thanks to @jspears8 for first telling me about Weekes’ comments.