Caps get Linden and get bigger

Montreal also deals Zubrus, gets Zednik

March 14, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Montreal Canadiens were flying from San Jose yesterday for a game in Carolina when center Trevor Linden put in a call to his agent.

"I asked him if there had been any interesting trades," said Linden. "He told me about a couple deals and then said something was coming in on the wire. `Wait a minute. Holy cow, you've just been traded!' I was about 30,000 feet high. Life changes pretty fast."

In the Eastern Conference, where centers are big, the Washington Capitals were small. But with yesterday's acquisition of Linden, 6 feet 4, 214 pounds, they suddenly got a whole lot bigger.

"I thought we needed another center who can play well five-on-five," said Capitals general manager George McPhee, who pulled the trigger on the biggest trading deadline deal here in 12 years. "He can take faceoffs and play on the power play. He's a bigger version of Jeff Halpern with more experience."

The Capitals have been playing like Stanley Cup contenders since Dec. 1, but yesterday's action was a rare, strong statement of just how serious they are about the playoffs.

In the same deal that sent developing Caps forwards Richard Zednik and Jan Bulis and a 2001 first-round draft choice to the Canadiens, Washington also landed talented right wing Dainius Zubrus and Montreal's 2001 second-round pick.

In another deal, the Caps added depth to their defense by acquiring veteran defenseman Jason Marshall and minor-league defenseman Dean Melanson from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the Caps' opponent last night in a game Anaheim won, 2-0, as its goaltender, Jean-Sebastien Giguere used 33 saves to produce his third shutout in 10 days.

"We needed something like that," said Caps coach Ron Wilson. "We haven't put together a full game in a long time. ... We see from this, if we're not all working and pulling in the same direction, we can't win."

Marshall, who once played two-thirds of a season for Anaheim's then minor-league affiliate Baltimore Bandits, is an eight-year NHL veteran known for his on-ice determination. In 50 games this season, he has three goals, four assists and 105 penalty minutes.

McPhee said Washington's defensive unit has the necessary skill players with Calle Johansson, Sergei Gonchar and Sylvain Cote, and now has more grit.

"We're really in good shape," said McPhee. "We've gotten all these pieces and haven't given away our future."

There were several sticking points in making the deal with Montreal. One was Linden's contract. The 30-year-old, 13-year veteran is making $3.5 million this season and has two years left on a contract that reportedly tops out at about $4.5 million.

The other sticking point was Zednik. Caps management had hoped the four-year veteran would be part of Washington's future. McPhee said that including him in the deal held it up for three days.

"Bulie had asked for a trade twice in the last week," McPhee said. "If his heart isn't in it here, then that makes it easier. But Zed was really hard. He's learned how to compete here. But that was the price of making the deal, and I thought we needed another center."

McPhee said Zubrus, 6-4, 221, has "more skill than 90 percent" of other players in the league. This season, Zubrus has 12 goals and 12 assists in 49 games, compared with Zednik's 16 goals and 19 assists in 62 games.

"I'm excited about coming to Washington," said Zubrus, who will arrive here with Linden in time for a noon practice at Piney Orchard today. "The team is so good in all areas of the game and to have a chance to do well with them and to be in the playoffs for the first time in a couple years, I'm happy."

Added Linden: "I think they probably don't get the respect they deserve, but they've put the pieces together and after you play against them you have more respect."

Speculation is that Linden, who has 12 goals and 21 assists in 57 games, can step in as the Capitals' second-line center. He is known for his toughness and prides himself on playing a strong game on both ends of the ice.

He might center a line with Zubrus and Bondra, who has 41 goals.

"I haven't really had time to look at the possible combinations in the lineup," said Linden. "I know Adam Oates is a tremendous playmaker. I'm not sure how a line with me sets up. But I'm efficient in both ends, and I played with Pavel Bure in the mid-'90s in Vancouver. Peter is an explosive player, a pure goal scorer. We'll just have to wait and see how things shape up."

After last night, one man who will be happy to see how things shape up with the new additions is Wilson. Only days ago, when asked what he needed for a strong playoff run, he boldly said: "I don't need anything."

But yesterday, after being handed a big, veteran center, a big, talented right wing and a big, strong defenseman, the coach was not complaining.

"It's difficult to give up Zed and Bulie," said Wilson. "But ... we think we've very close to contending for the Stanley Cup.

"I think the message this sends is that we believe we are serious contenders."

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