Monday, April 1, 2013


A few weeks ago, I was firmly on the "trade Ribeiro" and "sell, sell, sell" wagon. I didn't really see things getting better for this team. Fortunately (or unfortunately--I was hoping for Nathan MacKinnon), they've gone 6-4-1 since I wrote that, which is a 96-point pace over a full season (i.e. playoff-caliber). They're a single point out of 8th, and really should be able to squeak into the postseason by going four points over .500 in these final 13 games (taking them to 51 points; the Rangers are only one point above .500).

With the trade deadline coming up, since they're now so close, I've had a change of heart.

Not much benefit in going for the draft pick

First, what's the advantage in going for the draft pick now? Unless Buffalo or Tampa Bay go on a winning streak, the worst the Capitals will do is 4th-to-last in the conference (Philly should be able to pass them). In the other conference, Colorado is likely too far back to "catch up" with, and Calgary is three points back of .500 (compared to the Caps' one). It's possible that Calgary moves ahead of Washington--it's only two points back and one ROW back, which here would be the tiebreaker--but in the West that will be tough. (Especially now that they've gotten rid of their two best players--Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester.)

So I think that should the team choose to sell, it'll finish ahead of those four teams, plus Florida. That will still net the organization a prospect top-liner like Elias Lindholm or Sean Monahan. Unfortunately, the bubble teams make things complicated. Phoenix, Nashville, Edmonton, Dallas, Philadelphia, Carolina, and both New York teams are .500 +/- one point. One losing streak from one of those teams, and unless the Caps can "keep up," the losing team will fall to a better draft position. (The Caps currently hold a 2-ROW edge, minimum, over Nashville, Edmonton, and Phoenix.)

In short, I see gunning for the draft pick as a high-risk maneuver. The differences between picks past, say, the top 8 (from what I've read) won't be that big. It would be worth it to sell and go for the pick if you're guaranteed to finish 8th or better, but I think the team is too good to finish that low, even after jettisoning Ribeiro and other roster players.

Standing pat...meh

So what to do now? If you stand pat, you're still a bubble team that's on the bubble (unlike, say, Anaheim, probably a bubble-caliber team that's had a great dose of luck go its way), and with five teams competing for that 8th playoff spot in the East, odds are against any one of them getting it. It's the worst of both worlds--no better draft pick, and no playoffs.


So the final option is to buy.

Rentals, as you might expect, don't make sense here. The team doesn't have a deep farm system or NHL roster with talent to spare. It needs to get either players it is pretty certain it can re-sign and/or "futures." These futures should be upgrades on the roster immediately, and should have either the potential to improve or, at least, be the same caliber of player for some time. (In other words, they should be relatively young, not old enough for their play to decline significantly with age yet.)

We run into a problem here, again. Does the team have the "futures" (prospects and picks) or excess talent to give up for these "futures"? As aforementioned, no. But this is where Ribeiro comes in.

If you look through the numbers, it's clear Ribeiro isn't as good as his offense this season. (Short version: look at his player card, and notice the "+/- Rel" column. Those low positive numbers rank in the 40s or 50s among centers. That's an average 2C, which is not the same as 1C--what the elite teams in this league, save Chicago, each have at least two of.)

In order to improve the team by removing a roster player (here, Ribeiro), you have to "win" a trade or trades involving that player. That means either the player you're getting rid of is overrated, and you "sell" him for that inflated price (e.g. all those busts Pittsburgh has traded away, Goligoski), or the package coming back is underrated, and you're getting it at that lower price (e.g. Neal, Niskanen).

With Ribeiro, we already have the first part down. (And furthermore, I'd think that while prices for rentals are high, prices for longer-term pieces are "normal.") And if GMGM manages to find players that fit that second bill, he can make the team better immediately. So while "buyers" typically don't trade away some of their top performers, if you get more talent in return...that's "buying."

(You could add in other players to make it work, like Johansson and Neuvirth, if Ribeiro alone isn't sufficient.)

If the other team isn't willing to send back players that are good now, you could also just take the futures and trade them for those now-and-future pieces. (I really like Magnus Paajarvi in Edmonton, a fast two-way player who is stuck behind four really good wings, three of whom are younger than he is. Other players on my radar: Ales Hemsky, Peter Holland, Paul Stastny, and prospects in Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Columbus, and Ottawa.)

At any rate, I see this situation of having a player whose reputation exceeds his value as a great opportunity. Like the Kings with Jack Johnson, it's possible for the Capitals to use the situation to their advantage. I hope they do.

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