Although Washington explored the idea of a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks near the trade deadline for Patrick Sharp, the Capitals instead found a willing partner in St. Louis. The Blues sent popular winger T.J. Oshie to the Capitals for Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in next June’s draft.
Both teams were looking to make adjustments after disappointing playoff results, although it’s fair to say the pressure on the Blues is greater after consecutive first-round exits in spite of their strong roster. And they also have the task of bringing restricted free agent Vladimir Tarasenko under contract.
But this wasn’t necessarily about dumping salary; Brouwer makes only slightly less ($3.667 million cap hit) than Oshie’s $4.175 million cap hit. Brouwer does have only one year left on his deal, which provides more flexibility for St. Louis general manager Doug Armstrong, while Oshie has two more years left on his deal.
This was about two teams trying to find the right combination for playoff success that has eluded both franchises for years.
In short, this was a hockey deal.
The Blues were ousted in six games by the Minnesota Wild in April, and there was much discussion about whether a core player could be moved to create more flexibility for young players like Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera, who signed a three-year extension Wednesday. Captain David Backes, whose contract is up at the end of the 2015-16 season, was mentioned as possibly being available, as was Patrik Berglund, who has two years left on his deal.
But it was Oshie who ultimately paid the price for the Blues' uneven postseason showings in recent years. Part of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team in Sochi -- he will forever be remembered for his magical shootout performance against Russia in the preliminary round -- Oshie has struggled through injuries in the playoffs that has hampered his production. He had one goal and one assist in six games against Minnesota, and overall has just five goals in 30 postseason games, all with the Blues.
But even if he has slowed a half-step, Oshie represents an elite two-way player with 20-goal potential. And given that he seems destined to play with either Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom or emerging talent Evgeny Kuznetsov, the potential for 25 to 30 goals is definitely there.
The Oshie addition, along with the signing of free agent Justin Williams to a two-year deal late Wednesday gives the Capitals added experience along the wing at a cost that is just slightly more than had the team acquired Sharp.
Williams, of course, is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and the playoff MVP of the 2014 playoffs for the Los Angeles Kings.
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan continues his pattern of identifying and then fixing holes in the lineup.
Last summer he signed top-four defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to long-term deals to help take the pressure off John Carlson and Karl Alzner, and the results were tangible under new coach Barry Trotz.
If there is an area of concern for the Caps, it’s in giving up size. Brouwer is 6-foot-3 and not afraid of physical confrontation, and they'll likely lose unrestricted free-agent winger Joel Ward, who had a superb postseason playing mostly with Ovechkin and Backstrom.
As for the Blues, they're not giving up much in the skill department, as Brouwer is coming off a stretch that saw him score 65 goals (and 54 assists) for the Capitals in the past three seasons combined (Oshie had 47 goals, 88 assists). He should enjoy playing for coach Ken Hitchcock.
Like Oshie, though, playoff goals have been hard to come by for Brouwer, who was moved down the Capitals' lineup in the postseason and did not score in 14 games.
Could he slide into Oshie’s longtime slot playing with Backes? Absolutely.
But there is little doubt that Armstrong is hoping the move of a core Blues player may shake any complacency out of the lineup as they head into a crucial season.