September 16, 2019

OPINION: The Caps deadline deals make them better, but not good enough

Another trade deadline has come and gone. It’s a time when general managers try to inflate the importance of all the moves they made/didn’t make and a time when fans and analysts alike sit back and overestimate the impact a handful of depth players will have around the NHL.

Excuse me for not planning a Stanley Cup parade in Washington after the Capitals added Tim Gleason and Curtis Glencross to the roster.

I like both of these players. I’m not thrilled that the Caps have so few draft picks in what is supposed to be an excellent draft, but in the NHL where players outside of the first round rarely make the big leagues, I’m okay with making the types of deals general manager Brian MacLellan did in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

But come on. Have the Caps really gone from a wild card team to Cup contender with these additions?

Now, let’s be fair. Much of the criticism I’ve seen directed at MacLellan immediately after the deadline passed is based on unrealistic deadline expectations.

First, the Caps were not going to start shipping out every player who has ever had a bad game. If you expected MacLellan to trade away Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera this weekend, then of course you’re disappointed. That was never going to happen. The Caps own a wild card spot by a comfortable margin, they aren’t going to ship out half the team and risk whatever locker room chemistry they have developed.

Even if MacLellan wanted to, what could he have gotten? It’s not a secret that Laich has been unproductive, Johansson defers to star players and Chimera has lost a step. I don’t know what people were expecting MacLellan to do.

Second, top-level talent is rarely available at the deadline. Players like Antoine Vermette or Braydon Coburn are only considered ‘stars’ because they are the best players available. Players like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are stars. Chris Stewart is not. Players like Ovechkin and Crosby are not available at the deadline. Players like Stewart are.

Too man fans look at the trade deadline as a mini offseason, but it’s not. Teams are not going to break their rosters down and build it up in a weekend. Some moves are best left for the summer.

With that in mind, Gleason and Glencross combined is actually a pretty decent haul. Gleason with Mike Green is an upgrade from what the Caps had been working with this season and Glencross is a top six forward. The Caps have added grit, but not at the expense of skill or speed.

It is clear that the Capitals are a better team with these additions, but how much better are they and just what exactly did they improve?

The Caps’ biggest need as a team was a top-line right wing. That position was not addressed. Granted, there are few genuine top-line players available at the deadline. Those players are hard to come by and are expensive even when they are available, adding a left wing to the second line doesn’t do much to solve the hole on the top line especially when that player is so similar to someone already on that line.

Glencross and Troy Brouwer are very similar in their style of play. Glencross has a lot more stick handling skills and a more lethal shot, but for the most part they both get in front of the net, screen goalies and look for rebounds and shots from the slot.

Remember how well Laich and Brouwer played together on the same line? They were awful because they were too similar. A line with Glencross and Brouwer could have a similar issue. Barry Trotz could move Brouwer to the top line, but for now that does not seem to be the plan.

There is also the problem of what to do about Andre Burakovsky who, for the moment, appears to be the odd man out with Glencross’ addition. For whatever reason, Trotz is not comfortable having Burakovsky on the top line even though he has looked like the best option this season. In a vacuum, if given the choice between Glencross and Burakovsky, Glencross is the better player…for now. That answer will likely change next season, but for now it’s Glencross. The Capitals, however, do not exist in a vacuum. What if the choice were between the Caps’ best option for the top line and a second-line wing who provides the same things Brouwer does? Suddenly that choice is not so clear.

Improving the second line at the top line’s expense certainly does not make this team better.

I am also bothered by the notion that the Caps felt compelled to make a move because of the ‘wide open’ East. That may have been true two months ago, but that is no longer case.

The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens are beginning to separate themselves from the pack. The Rangers can’t seem to lose even without Henrik Lundqvist. Once they get their star goalie back they are going to be tough for any team to beat in the playoffs. In Montreal, Carey Price is making a case for the Hart Memorial Trophy with numbers that are so good, it’s hard to believe they are accurate.

Braden Holtby has been phenomenal for the Caps this season posting a goals against average of 2.16 and a .925 save percentage. Price has a 1.88 GAA and a .936 save percentage. Wow.

Beating goalies like Lundqvist and Price in the playoffs is hard enough, but having an incomplete top line and a redundant second line is not going to get the Caps very far. I simply don’t see the Caps beating either New York or Montreal in a best of seven. There’s a ceiling to what the Caps can do in the postseason and it didn’t get any higher just because the team traded for Gleason and Glencross so…what was the point?

The Caps are a better team now on paper because of Gleason and Glencross a Cup contender? I just don’t see it.

About J.J. Regan

J.J. Regan is a contributor to District Sports Page. He also is a college football and NHL blogger for CSNwashington.com and CSNbaltimore.com and has a master's degree in interactive journalism from American University. Regan follows all DC sports but focuses mainly on the the Caps and college football. You can view his online portfolio at regansports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheDC_Sportsguy.

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