GM George McPhee added Huet, Fedorov and Cooke prior to the NHL's trade deadline. (Photo by Greg Fiume/NHLI via Getty Images)
You would have to assume Washington GM George McPhee was trading for his life.
So while the Pittsburgh Penguins made a huge splash in acquiring Marian Hossa to skate on a line with Sidney Crosby and the Dallas Stars enhanced their chances of winning the tough Western Conference by adding center Brad Richards, the Capitals made three moves to give them some hope of winning the “SouthLeast” Division and thereby making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
And if they make it, maybe, just maybe, McPhee hangs on to his job.
While there is no way on Earth the Capitals have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup this season, the acquisitions of goalie Cristobal Huet, center Sergei Fedorov and bruising winger Matt Cooke just may push them past the Carolina Hurricanes for top spot in the Southeast.
If they manage that, they’ll make the playoffs, even though there’s a chance a number of teams that will finish with more points than the Capitals won’t. Such is the NHL’s playoff format where all division winners advance to the post-season dance.
The fact is San Jose’s acquisition of defenseman Brian Campbell, Pittsburgh’s pick up of Hossa and Dallas getting Richards from Tampa Bay has put those teams that much closer to being Cup contenders. But in Washington, where you have one of the best players in the league in Alex Ovechkin, it was equally important for this team to just make the playoffs.
Huet may give the Caps the solid goaltending they have been looking for this year. It may also spell the end of a very solid career in Washington for veteran Olaf Kolzig.
With Brent Johnson outplaying Kolzig of late, but still not the answer to getting Washington into the playoffs, McPhee decided to roll the dice on Huet, who has played fairly well at times for the Montreal Canadiens.
There are those who will tell you Huet should have been the No. 1 goalie for the Habs, but the fact he was unable to establish himself as the bona fide starter in Montreal in parts of three seasons suggests he’s still a work in progress. But he is still better than what the Caps had.
Fedorov’s best days are clearly behind him. But he remains a very good skater and could be a two-way threat and veteran presence on a team that relies heavily on its youngsters.
That is, if he is motivated.
There have been times in recent years when the 1994 Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s most valuable player simply went through the motions. If he digs deep and decides to try hard, he could push the Caps into the playoffs.
Don’t expect miracles from Cooke, but at the very least he’ll be a physical player who will keep members of the opposition on their toes.
All in all, McPhee didn’t make the biggest splash on deadline day, but his tinkering could be exactly what his team needs to make the playoffs.
And if they do, he’ll have a good chance of returning next season.
Mike Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and his column, Double OT, appears Wednesday.
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