On the outside, it looks like the Capitals’ trade that sent Adam Oates to Philadelphia was a concession on Washington’s season.
Why else would the Caps trade away one of the game’s top players to a division rival?
But look at what Washington is getting back: a goaltender named Maxime Ouellet and a boatload of picks in next year’s draft. And not garbage picks, but the Flyers’ first, second, and third-round selections.
The Flyers needed Oates desperately. Maybe not Oates, but some kind of presence at the center position. At the time the deal was made the status of both Keith Primeau and Jeremy Roenick were unknown. Both were injured. And although Primeau has now returned to the lineup, Roenick won’t be back until the playoffs begin.
And that’s really what the regular season is about — getting to the playoffs. But the Caps are languishing near the bottom of the playoff race. Even if they do make the postseason, they’ll play the East’s top seed, the Flyers.
By all accounts, it’s been a disappointing season for the Capitals. Jaromir Jagr hasn’t been the savior like many expected him to be, but he is hardly the only one who should take the blame. The team itself hasn’t been great, or at least not like the mid- to upper-tier playoff team Caps fans have been used to seeing.
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that Washington was in the Stanley Cup finals.
And no matter what happens the rest of this season barring a miracle run through the playoffs — this season will be a disappointment. So why not build for the future instead?
Jagr, goaltender Olaf Kolzig and defenseman Chris Simon — the core group on the team — are all relatively young. In dealing Oates, the Caps get younger and also rid themselves of a disgruntled player who wanted out before the season ever began.
So they found a suitor for Oates, one that was willing to pay a dear price. Ouellet was one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey, but the Flyers had no room for him in net behind their tandem of RomanCechmanek and Brian Boucher. Now, Washington could follow that same strategy: give Kolzig many more chances to rest by spelling him with Ouellet.
And if the Capitals have any other needs, they won’t have to bank on free agency or a blockbuster trade like the Jagr deal to get them a frontline player. They can build through the draft.
If the Flyers are as good in the postseason as they were in the regular season, the picks won’t mean a whole lot to Washington the picks will be late in their respective rounds anyway.
But you can’t go wrong with numbers: Always better to have two first-round picks than one.
Just ask the Redskins, who built the foundation of their team with LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuel, selected with the top two picks in the draft a few years ago.
But that’s miles down the road. Hockey draft picks are expected to contribute immediately like those in the NFL. When the Boston Bruins made Joe Thornton the first pick in the draft a few years back, everybody thought it was a no-brainer. Thornton was the best player available.
He rocketed through the lower leagues and soon made it up to the big club. But not until this season has everyone seen the player they expected would come much sooner after his draft day.
Building for the future isn’t always successful, and it’s rarely the answers fans want to hear. But dealing Oates to the all-of-a-sudden desperate Flyers isn’t such a bad idea.
The end results of the game won’t be known for another few years. Regardless of what happens next year, the Caps will have the benefit of a year of experience playing with Jagr, and could snatch a player like Thornton with one of the Flyers’ picks in the draft.
Even if it’s three years down the road, Washington will be far better for having dealt the aging Oates.
Brian Hunsicker is a staff writer for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or via e-mail at [email protected]