Trade for offensive D-man Kevin Shattenkirk means nothing unless the Capitals go all the way

Kevin Shattenkirk is going to look mighty good on that Capitals blue-line. Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

If there's a team that knows all too well the meaningless nature of labels such as "best" and "odds-on favorite" and "Stanley Cup darling," it's the Washington Capitals.

These labels have served at various times over the past decade to become more yoke or albatross than a signpost on the way to greatness for this club.

This season, those same labels have been held at the ready once again and they are now being applied to the Capitals in the wake of Monday's bold move that saw them acquire offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltender Pheonix Copley from the St. Louis Blues for a first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick, center Brad Malone and prospect Zach Sanford.

Shattenkirk, of course, was the most sought-after player heading toward Wednesday's trade deadline. The gifted 28-year-old puck mover -- who was tied for fourth among all defensemen this season with 42 points -- had been pursued by a number of teams, including the Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning for well more than a year.

The belief is that Shattenkirk, due to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, will likely sign a monster long-term deal with another team in the summer -- the New York Rangers are believed to be the early favorite in what would be the second Shattenkirk sweepstakes.

The Capitals, winners of the first such sweepstakes, couldn't care less in spite of the high cost it took to bring the hired gun to town.

Before this deal, the Capitals were already best in the league in goals against per game and second in goals scored per game. They are fifth on the power play and seventh on the penalty kill.

With Shattenkirk added to an already imposing arsenal, it's an embarrassment of riches.

Shattenkirk joins other top-notch right-handed shots on the blue line in Matt Niskanen and John Carlson, and gives head coach Barry Trotz myriad options, especially when it comes to the power play.

Indeed, Trotz's biggest challenge might be in getting all his talented blue-liners enough ice time. That's a nice problem to have.

In the end, here's what this deal means with less than a quarter of the season left to play: nothing.

Just as the Capitals earning what looks like their second straight Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team means nothing.

When you're as good as the Capitals have been for so long during the regular season (they also won the Presidents' Trophy in 2010) and have achieved so little in the playoffs, all these successes, all these lineup moves, even ones as impressive as the Shattenkirk addition, have to be put into perspective.

And the perspective tells us that the only measuring stick that matters is the one that goes from one to 16, which is the number of wins required to win the Stanley Cup.

The Capitals have rarely come close to reaching the end of that ultimate measuring device.

They went to the finals in 1998 and were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. They haven't been back since and in fact since Alex Ovechkin's first season in the NHL, 2005-06, the Capitals have never advanced beyond the second round.

Last season, the second of the Trotz era, the team appeared to have all the pieces in place to make that magical run the Capitals' fan base yearns for. Instead, they were dumped in the second round by archrival (and eventual Cup champion) Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

GM Brian MacLellan told me before the season his plan for returning essentially the same roster from a year ago was basically that he was giving this group one more shot.

Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie and Karl Alzner are all pending unrestricted free agents.

Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov, both high-end talents, are restricted free agents.

Ovechkin and star center Nicklas Backstrom are another year older.

MacLellan didn't say it, but the implication was clear back in September: The time is now.

Or rather, if not now, when?

The addition of Shattenkirk puts an exclamation point on the question.

If not now with the addition of a player the caliber of Shattenkirk, if not now with this formidable roster, a roster built to face all comers no matter of style or game plan, then when?

For Washington Capitals fans, it already seems like forever when it comes to the Stanley Cup. Monday's move might make them feel just a little bit better about when.

It should, even if history has taught Caps fans that labels such as "best" and "Cup favorites" can sometimes lead to the worst kind of heartbreak.