After having a relatively stable roster for two years, the Caps have been moving pieces in and out since the summer of 2009. In Jason Arnott, the Caps seem to have finally nailed down their replacement for Sergei Fedorov and have settled on 4 centers heading into the playoffs. To get a sense of what an accomplishment that is, let's take a look at the centermen who followed Fedorov into Capital exile.
Brendan Morrison: Capitals General Manager George McPhee took a flyer on BMo in the summer of 2009, signing him to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. Brendan played well, especially coming off a knee injury, but not good enough to stay. In 74 regular season games, he posted 12 goals, 42 points, and a +23 rating. When he recorded just 1 assist in 5 playoff games and sat out two Caps losses, he knew his days in DC were numbered. The former middle of the West Coast Express headed back to the Northwest Division last summer, parlaying a pro tryout at age 35 into a 1-year contract with the Calgary Flames ($725,000). "The Little 8" has not disappointed, posting 9 goals and 43 points in just 66 games so far while centering the Flames' top line of Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay. NHL.com is reporting that the Flames 4th leading scorer may have suffered a serious knee injury last night, which would be his second in 3 years. A long-term injury to Morrison at this stage of the season could cripple the Flames' playoff chances. Who knows what could have happened if BMo had stayed with the Caps, but we'll always have this goal.
David Steckel: Steckel, 28, got traded to the Devils on Monday. By Wednesday NHL.com had written a feature story about him. He earned a promotion to third-line duty, skating 13:33 last night between Vladimir Zharkov and David Clarkson, 2 minutes more than his season average. Wearing Arnott's old #25, the league's leading faceoff man went 4-for-12 in the dot as the Devils took down the Southeast leading Tampa Bay Lightning. Steckel had 5 goals and 11 points in 57 games in DC this season. After being a scoring star in college and the AHL, Steckel had just 23 goals and 58 points in 291 games in DC. He raised his game in the playoffs, but after being an overtime scoring hero in 2009 (with 3 goals, 5 points in 14 games total), Steckel only appeared in 3 of the Caps 7 playoff games against the Canadiens last spring. A $1.1 million per year contract made him expendable at that point, as the Caps have several players who can fill that role. Even if he won't light the lamp with regularity, Steckel's work ethic and character are role-model worthy.
Steckel's Overtime Goal Against Pittsburgh
Eric Belanger: After turning down numerous multi-million dollar, multi-year contract offers from the Washington Capitals, then 32-year old Eric Belanger settled on a 1-year, $750,000 contract to play with the Phoenix Coyotes when the Caps finally stopped playing phone tag with his agent. Belanger, who came to the Capitals at the NHL trade deadline last year en route to a career-high 41 points, scored 35 of those points in 60 games in Minnesota and just 6 points in 17 games in Washington. He also posted just 1 assist and 8 lost teeth in 7 playoff games. This season in Phoenix, Belanger leads all Coyotes centermen with a whopping 27 points, and sits 8th in team scoring overall. He has exactly as many goals as Caps rookie center Marcus Johansson (9), but in 14 more games. He is on pace for another 33-37 point season, which is his norm. The Capitals are fortunate they did not sign Belanger in the offseason, as he would have been another 3rd-line center on a team full of them.
No goals to remember Belanger by, just lost teeth.
Tomas Fleischmann: Flash, age 26, signed a 1-year contract for way too much money in August that would get him to unrestricted free agency. He posted decent numbers in 2009-10, 23 goals and 51 points, but he was not effective at center, and he was certainly not effective in 6 playoff games (1 assist). Fleischmann has always been a small, wispy forward with a crafty skill set, but his light frame and blood chemistry made him injury prone. The contract he signed made him expendable, so when the opportunity arose, McPhee traded him to Colorado for Scott Hannan. Fleischmann, who had been struggling last fall with just 10 points in 23 games in DC, broke out with 21 points in 22 Mile-High games before developing blood clots in both of his lungs. The Caps were fortunate to land such an experienced and tough defenseman for Flash anyway, but they were doubly lucky to do so before Flash's season ended. Fleischmann is a quality human being, a nice guy and good teammate off the ice, and he's a decent hockey player on it. He's an NHL top-6 forward, just not on the Caps, and not at center. He just couldn't get the job done for the Caps in the playoffs, even though he was a playoff wizard for two years in the AHL. It is telling when your fourth-line center has more career playoff points than your second line center (Steckel: 4-3-7 in 24 games, Flash: 3-2-5 in 22 games). Hopefully Flash will find his stride next season if he can get healthy. We certainly wish him luck.
"Fleischmann" and "Playoff Highlight" used together usually meant good things for the other team