The Washington Capitals traded center Mathieu Perreault to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for minor league forward John Mitchell and a fourth round pick in the 2014 entry draft. With Perreault’s $1 million salary cleared from the books, the team now has cap space to keep Tom Wilson on the big squad instead of sending him back to Juniors.
There are a number of factors to consider when contemplating this deal.
First, it removes a useful, legitimate NHL player — and a center to boot — off the Caps roster. Perreault had most likely maxed in his production and contribution at this level, but he’s still a legitimate bottom six forward. He has offensive skill, which (as we’ll discuss in just a bit) is at a premium on this team.
The team immediately got less skilled as a unit with Perreault’s departure.
Next, it opens up a cap room for Tom Wilson, the 19-year-old power forward that either had to be kept in D.C. or allowed to return to his major Juniors team due to age restrictions. It’s a messed-up rule that is designed to allow players to remain in Juniors and not just stock minor league rosters, but it hurt the situation here that the Caps couldn’t assign Wilson to Hershey, where he could have grown his game another season against stronger competition. Juniors would have done nothing for him other than make him a target.
I think the moment Wilson was recalled in the playoffs last season to give the Caps a physical presence against the Rangers, he was on the opening night roster this season. No doubt in my mind. It was just a question of making the money work.
I think where most folks are going to have the biggest problem with this deal isn’t particularly for the return, though it’s really not much of anything, but in terms of “asset management.”
In moving Perreault, the Caps decided to keep Aaron Volpatti and Michael Latta — and to a lesser extent, Jason Chimera – over him. This is what people will complain about in this deal.
Let’s make no mistake here. Volpatti is not really an NHL player. He’s right on that ledge between AHL and sitting in a press box every night. He certainly doesn’t have anywhere the skill level of Perreault. What Volpatti brings that Perreault does not is a willingness to throw his body around and get punched in the face.
The Caps didn’t choose Wilson over Perreault. They chose Volpatti over Perreault. The numbers don’t quite work the same, but that’s the jist of it.
Michael Latta can play a little bit, at least at the AHL level. Yes, he’s willing to fight. But he also led his AHL team in assists, so he might be able to bring a little bit of skill along with a certain ruggedness. But you can imagine an NHL talent evaluator looking at Latta and saying, “This guy could be something.” The Caps don’t know what the upside with Latta is yet, but they know what that had in Perreault.
Again, they didn’t chose Wilson over Perreault, they chose Latta.
Jason Chimera is not a goal scorer. The 20-goal season he had two years ago was a statistical anomaly. He’s a hard worker, a terrific skater, and will play physically (without getting into a fight). He has established a “veteran presence” in the room. But he makes $1.75 million. If the Caps wanted to trim some dead weight salary cap-wise, Chimera would have been a great place to do that.
They didn’t choose Wilson over Perreault. They chose Chimera.
I could go on and on. John Erskine is nobody’s idea of a top-4 defenseman (except Adam Oates, apparently) and the contract extension they gave him last year is one of the prime reasons they’re in such a tight spot with the cap. But they aren’t gonna move Erskine off the roster for Perreault.
We could continue this exercise until we’re blue in the face. But it’s simple, really. The Caps, for whatever reason, decided that Perreault didn’t fit into their plans. They didn’t see him as a top-6 forward on this team and didn’t like how he fit with the rest of the “talent” they have. When we saw Eric Fehr and Martin Erat at center in the preseason, that was planning for potential injury down the road. The writing was on the wall for Perreault at the start of camp.
They obviously have decided that they want more size and grit on this team and have made a series of personnel moves to those ends. Erskine as top-4 d-man. Wilson. Latta. Volpatti.
Trading Perreault was the final straw.
Is this deal going to be the difference between the Caps winning the Stanley Cup or not? No. It’s not. But a combination of financial factors, along with a shift in philosophy in how to build a roster, spelled the end of a useful player and fan-favorite in D.C.
Should the Caps have a top-six center go down to injury, it’ll complicate things greatly. But I also don’t believe the organization had the confidence in Mathieu Perreault to fill that role should it have become available anyway.
Bottom line to the deal is this: the Caps got less talented through this move, and that’s always a risky proposition in the modern NHL.