'Tis the season to return and exchange unwanted items and Washington GM George McPhee certainly got a honey of a deal in shipping captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus for grinding left winger Jason Chimera.
It's no secret the high-flying Capitals are spending as much money on salary as they're allowed to right now and thanks to a bevy of young stars, that won't be changing anytime soon. With the $6 million recently promised to right winger Alexander Semin for next season and playmaking wizard Nicklas Backstrom still in need of a contract for 2010-11, something had to be done.
Some thought it was going to be an either-or proposition; McPhee could keep Semin or Backstrom, but not both. But with the clearing out of Clark's $2.6 million cap hit for next year (Chimera will make just less than $1.9 million) and goalie Jose Theodore's $4.5 million stipend coming off the books, the weather gets a little sunnier for Washington capologists.
On the ice, Washington gets one of the better checking forwards in the league in Chimera. Alex Ovechkin has no shortage of capable buddies in the top-six corps, but Chimera's impact will come on the other end of the spectrum where he can bang and crash alongside players such as Matt Bradley and David Steckel. Could he be Washington's answer to Craig Adams, who played so well during Pittsburgh's run to the Stanley Cup last year?
But for me, this trade was really an addition by subtraction situation. I like Jurcina, but clearly the Caps had other designs, one of which I'm sure was getting more NHL minutes for young blueliner Karl Alzner or, when he returns from the world juniors, John Carlson. Again, cap space was a constant concern in that regard, not to mention the fact Jurcina is a serviceable second-pair defenseman.
Clark, the long-time captain of the team, is a long way from his 54-point campaign in 2006-07 and while his dressing room contributions may have been valuable, it seems only obvious that Ovechkin should grab that 'C' either this year or next – it's his team, we all know it.
As for Columbus, at first it seems as though GM Scott Howson was simply doing McPhee a huge favor with this deal, but the struggling Jackets do need a kick in the pants. The former defensively stout team has given up more goals than any squad in the West (129 through 40 games) and Jurcina can at least chip in some of the minutes lost to Rusty Klesla's torn groin muscle. Clark's two-way play will help sub in for the loss of Chimera and also bring an experienced voice to the room.
But I have a feeling Howson's angle was one of flexibility here. Jurcina is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so consider this campaign an extended tryout. Clark is only on the books for one more year, while Chimera was signed through 2011-12. If the Jackets need change, they've got the moving parts to do so.
These are two teams in very different situations right now, but they managed to aid each other greatly with this deal. It's a Christmas miracle!
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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