Scratch Ticket

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

The recent NHL trade deadline was a bit of a dud in comparison to previous seasons. Few impact players moved on deadline day and few such players changed sweaters in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline as well. In the days leading up to the deadline, there was some speculation (emphasis on the word “speculation”) that veteran Caps blueliner Roman Hamrlik and veteran Washington right wing Mike Knuble might be dealt away from the District simply because both had been healthy scratches for a few games prior to the deadline. Hamrlik has a season left on a two-year contract that pays him $3.5 million annually, and Knuble will be an unrestricted free agent this summer when his one-year, $2 million deal expires. Simply because a player has been a scratch and/or because he has a high salary tag are not reasons enough to move him out at the deadline. If a team has given up all hope of a playoff berth, then maybe it makes sense. Otherwise, not so much. Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek has been a frequent healthy scratch this season despite his $4.5 million salary cap hit. Calgary center Matt Stajan has a $3.5 million cap hit and he was a healthy scratch on and off for several games earlier this season. Both the Maple Leafs and the Flames are on the playoff bubble like the Capitals are, and both teams did little to nothing at the deadline. Neither Komisarek nor Stajan were moved. If you fancy yourself a playoff team, you need depth. You need as much depth as possible, and Caps general manager George McPhee knows that. In 2007-08, the Caps deployed nine different defensemen during the regular season, and often carried eight on the roster. Blueliner Brian Pothier and his $2.5 million cap hit was an occasional healthy scratch, but more frequently it was Erskine (51 regular season games) and Steve Eminger (20 games) who were the odd men out. In limited regular season action, Erskine averaged 15:43 in ice time per night while Eminger averaged just 11:08. Pothier suffered a mid-season concussion and was sidelined for the remainder of the campaign and into the playoffs. Erskine played more frequently after Pothier went down, but still only played in 10 of the team’s last 19 regular season games. Eminger played in 10 of the team’s last 30 games and went more than a month (a la Schultz this season) without playing at one point. McPhee probably could have moved Eminger at the trade deadline – he had been scratched in three straight and eight of the previous 11 at that stage – but elected to keep the team’s defensive corps intact even though the Caps were on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs went. It turned out to be a prudent move. Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was ailing going into the postseason, and Jeff Schultz was injured early in the playoffs. Erskine wound up playing all seven games in the Capitals’ first-round series against Philadelphia that spring, and Eminger played in five of the seven. Frequently, the two were partnered together as Washington’s third pair. Erskine averaged 17:07 per night in the 2008 postseason. He was a plus-1 and had two assists. Eminger averaged 16:06 with a plus-2 and he contributed a goal to the cause. A little over two months later, McPhee was able to swing a deal with the Flyers for Eminger; they had been impressed with his play against them in the playoffs. McPhee packaged Eminger and a third-round choice to pry the Flyers’ first-rounder away. With that first-rounder from Philly, the Caps selected defenseman John Carlson in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. One more example: forward Todd Krygier played in just 45 games for the 1997-98 Capitals, totaling two goals and 14 points. Krygier had terrific speed, but his hands were found to be a bit lacking over the course of his very respectable nine-year NHL career. At various times during their run to the Stanley Cup finals in the spring of 1998, the Capitals were without the services of Peter Bondra, Chris Simon, Michal Pivonka and Kelly Miller. Krygier found himself seeing action in 13 of the Capitals’ 21 playoff games that spring. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against Buffalo, the Caps badly needed a win. They lost the series opener to Dominik Hasek and the Sabres on home ice and faced the specter of going to Buffalo in an 0-2 hole. That May 25, 1998 game went into overtime with the two teams tied at 2-2. Krygier was dressed that night, and he skated 18 shifts. On the last of those shifts, he beat Hasek for an overtime game-winner that enabled the Caps to beat the Sabres and even the series as it shifted to Buffalo. Washington went on to win the series in six games. That would prove to be the last goal of Krygier’s NHL career. Needless to say, it was a big one. Former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was likely more effective at getting frequently scratched and/or fringe players into the lineup more regularly and making them feel more like part of the team. That’s significant and important, I believe. It will be a challenge for Dale Hunter and his staff to do the same down the stretch here. Hamrlik, Knuble and Erskine have been healthy scratches of late. But they’re all proven NHL players. The Caps have 19 regular season games remaining, and they’d love to have at least that many more in the postseason. Those three players are almost certain to be needed at some point. Trading them away from late-round draft choices makes little sense for the Caps, but keeping them from rusting away is important, too.

next up:

Three in 37

January 14, 2013

Washington’s late rally in Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over the New York Islanders was one for the ages. The caps trailed 2-0 into the game’s waning minutes, but Washington turned things around in a hurry. Troy Brouwer tallied twice in the final 3:29 of regulation to force overtime and Alex Ovechkin


Mike Vogel on Twitter

Caps Featured Video

Caps Red Line 2015-16 - Top 8 Ove...

As we celebrate Ovechkin reaching the 500-goal club, here's a countdown of the Great 8's eight mo...

Capitals Shows & Videos