Last week there was some chatter started that indicated the Capitals might be looking at making a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to trade Michael Nylander and some considerations for Nikolai Khabibuhlen. One might ask, would such a deal make sense? For myself, analyzing the situation I come up with a very definite ... well, maybe. The first thing one has to do to assess the viability of the deal is ask, would such a deal have the possibility of making both teams better. On this aspect the answer is a definite probability.
The Blackhawks style of play is probably even better suited for Nylander than the style of the Bruce Boudreau Capitals and the average age of the top 4 centers in Chicago is 23 years old. Further the 44 games of NHL playoff experience that the 36 year old Nylander has could be to the Blackhawks what Sergei Federov was to the Capitals these past two seasons. The only players on the Chicago roster with significant playoff experience are 27 year old Martin Havlat and 35 year old Kahbibuhlen. So Nylander would probably help the Chicago front line attack with his mature steady hand. However, the whole Christobel Huet/Nikolai Kahbibuhlen "deal" continues to befuddle. So far this season as #1 and #1A goaltenders the Chicago goaltenders statistics look like this:
Khabibuhlen: 10-1-4 with 1 shutout; a GAA of 2.44 and a save % of 0.922;
Huet: 8-5-3 with 1 shutout; a GAA of 2.38 and a save % of 0.916.
Over their careers Kahbibuhlen has a save % of 0.908 (652 games) in the regular season and 0.922 in the playoffs (57 games), while Huet has a save % of 0.918 (199 games) in the regular season and 0.918 in the playoffs (13 games). So why trade down from Khabibuhlen who has a Stanley Cup ring now when they are only trailing the Red Wings by five points and they have a game in hand on Detroit? On the season the Blackhawks have played 31 games so far and have 114 goals for and 82 goals against. They also have two experienced defenseman in Brian Campbell and Brent Sopel - in short other than one or two more experienced forwards they have what they need for a playoff run and they do indeed have an extra number 1 goaltender. However, the goaltender with the most playoff experience is Khabibuhlen and while he does indeed become a free agent at the end of the season, does it make sense for the Blackhawks to count on Huet who has only 13 games of playoff experience to drive them deep into the playoffs this season and next? Of course, based on signing Huet to a four year contract, the Blackhawks have probably already made that decision. Assuming the Blackhawks trade either Huet or Khabibuhlen, they will be counting on either 25 year old prospect Corey Crawford or 25 year old prospect Antti Neimi to step into the void and provide a solid backup to their number 1.
Would having Khabibuhlen as a Cap make sense and make the Capitals better? Could the Caps make such a deal work? The Caps have Jose Theodore and Brent Johnson. So far this season both have done adequately, Johnson probably more so. However, both are now battling back from hip injuries and neither have had the success of Kahbibuhlen either this season or consistently over the length of their careers. So far this season their numbers look as follows:
Theodore: 8-6-1 with 1 shutout; a GAA of 3.26 and a SV % of 0.883;
Johnson: 10-5-2 with no shutouts; a GAA of 2.55 and a SV % of 0.916.
Over their careers Theodore has a save % of 0.908 (462 games) in the regular season and 0.914 (47 games) in the playoffs; while Johnson has a save % of 0.903 (243 games) in the regular season and 0.931 (12 games) in the playoffs. While Theodore has a Vezina and Hart Trophy to his credit, he doesn't have any Stanley Cup Rings and the deepest he has been in the playoffs is 12 games. Johnson becomes a free agent at the end of this season, Johnnie's salary cap hit this season is $812K. Theodore is signed through the end of next season with an average salary cap hit of 4.5M. Kahbibuhlen is a free agent at the end of this season, his full season salary cap hit to the Blackhawks this season is $6.75M. Michael Nylander is signed to a contract with the Capitals through the 2010-2011 season that has a salary cap hit of $4.875M and a no movement clause. Another factor, though doubtful will be that Kahbibuhlen might be willing to take something more on the order of what the Caps could afford next season for their number 1 goaltender - say $4.5 to $5M and accept a two or three year deal, to play on a team with Russian countryman like the Alexes: Ovechkin & Semin, even if Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Federov do not resign, and to be the mentor to Caps 20 year old prospect Simeon Varlamov. That assumes that somehow the Caps resolve the issues such a deal would create with Theodore as well. That Khabibuhlen would be a fair to great mentor for Varlamov shouldn't be in doubt; just the fact someone with Khabibuhlen's NHL experience could coach the protege' without having to battle a language barrier has to be a plus. The bigger issues are who back fills Nylander until everyone is healthy and what do the Capitals do with Jose Theodore if they decide that neither he nor Brent Johnson are likely to be the goalie to take them deep into the playoffs this spring. Also what has to happen to make the salary cap numbers even begin to work this season? The Capitals basically have no Cap room right now and Khabibuhlen's cap hit is a prorated $1.9M larger than Nylander's. Clearly there has to be another player or two involved to make the numbers work and with the Capital's injuries to date, it's very hard to figure out who that might be.
So to me everything about this discussion looks like a definite maybe.