For Capitals at trade deadline, it's hard to deal

Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

McPhee says it's better to stay put than make a mistake

Capitals general manager George McPhee did not see a deal to his liking as the NHL trade deadline approached Monday afternoon. So instead of adding to a team fighting just to make it into the Stanley Cup playoffs, he chose to stand pat.

It's an interesting tactic considering McPhee has two unhappy veterans on his hands -- forward Mike Knuble and defenseman Roman Hamrlik. Knuble has been scratched five times in the last nine games. Hamrlik, scratched in the last two, has made sharp public remarks about coach Dale Hunter. According to McPhee, deals for even those players weren't palatable. And he definitely wasn't trading a young asset for someone who wouldn't make an appreciable difference.

So what would it have taken to get a major deal done?

"Make a mistake that I would regret in the summer. And a lot of that happens at the trading deadline," McPhee said. "There are more mistakes made at the trading deadline than at any time in our business because everybody thinks this is the move that puts them over the top. And then in the summertime you have a lot of managers sitting there, 'Geez, I wish I still had that young player or I wish I had that first-round pick.' So we weren't going to make a mistake. We weren't going to chase a bad deal."

The Caps put center Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injured reserve Monday. He has been out since leaving a game Jan. 3 with a concussion. That move cleared enough salary-cap space in case a trade presented itself. Backstrom can return at any time, but there is no indication he is ready to begin skating as concussion symptoms persist. That made McPhee's deadline decision trickier.

"I certainly think we're capable of making the playoffs with this team right now," McPhee said. "If Nicky Backstrom came back, it certainly would improve our chances of being able to win a [Stanley] Cup. We can make the playoffs with this team, and if he comes back we can beat anybody in this conference."

So the team that took the ice in wins over Montreal and Toronto over the weekend will be the same one that starts a critical five-game homestand against the New York Islanders on Tuesday at Verizon Center. Washington (31-26-5, 67 points) is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

"This is a big stretch for us. After [the trade deadline] is over with and done, we have to be ready to go [Tuesday], and we've got to keep stringing these wins together," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "We played two really good games. We have to keep going. It's down the stretch. We have ... 20 games left. We got to make a push. All the other teams around us seem to be winning as well."

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