Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Needs and Wants

Tomorrow, NHL teams across North America will need to assess what they want and what they need. It’s a time-tested virtue that every child learns, and it still holds true today, even in hockey. While the fans might be clamoring for an elite player, it may not be what the team actually needs.

In Washington, the wants are reasonable: a top four defender, a veteran backup goalie, a penalty killer and a secondary scorer. It is my belief that only two or three of these wants will actually be filled, but which of them do the Capitals absolutely need?

Need: Top Four Defender

A top four defender is the Capitals first major need. Outside of Tom Poti, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, the Capitals have three defenders who are at best third-line defenders. Erskine, Jurcina and Morrison haven’t displayed enough ability to assume the role of a top four defender and without two strong pairings on defense a long playoff run could be hard to realize. If the Capitals want to be Cup contenders for years to come, the foundation of a Cup run will built upon the defense. If the Caps can trade for a defender who could possibly become a top four fixture in the future, we say buy buy buy.

Need: Penalty Killer

A penalty killing player, possibly negated by trading for a top four defender, should be next. The Capitals power play is a dominate force in the NHL, but if they can’t kill penalties they earn it’s not going to do them any good if the Caps have to rely on the power play to bail them out. It should be the other way around, but for the Capitals, it simply hasn’t. Defense wins championships, and the Capitals' glaring weaknesses are on defense and special teams.

Want: Backup Goalie

Jose Theodore is in a minor slump, and if the Capitals want to go deep, they may have to rely on a backup should Theodore go cold. Michal Neuvirth has been impressive in his starts, and his relief of Theodore was adequate, but do you really want a rookie backup with two games experience as Plan B? The Capitals could survive without a veteran backup, but if a goalie can come cheap, the Capitals would be wise to buy. There’s a reason that a backup quarterback is called “the most important position in football,” and I believe the same applies to goalies in the NHL.

Want: Scoring Winger

A scoring winger would be a luxury. The Capitals don’t need one, but trading for one wouldn’t hurt the team. Last year, Marian Hossa was the coveted scoring player on the market. This year, it’s Alex Kovalev. While the Capitals might benefit from acquiring the services of another scoring player, the cost may not be worth it. A guy like Kovalev will not come cheap; will probably require a top pick, a top prospect and even a role player. If the Capitals can come across another scorer for a bargain, great; if it means sacrificing the future for a luxury rental, forget it.

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