If there was any doubt the four-game Western road trip didn't go the way Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray wanted, it was put to rest last night when the Caps traded center Kevin Miller to the St. Louis Blues.
In return, the Caps get defenseman Paul Cavallini, who has one goal and four assists in 11 games this season and leads the Blues in plus/minus with a plus-three.
"Things were not working out well with Kevin Miller and the Washington Capitals," said Caps general manager David Poile. "He sat out the last two games and I felt that before the situation got any worse, this would be good for all of us."
Cavallini is expected to join the Caps in Indianapolis tomorrow for their game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Miller, who came to the Capitals this past summer from the Detroit Red Wings in a trade for Dino Ciccarelli, has not been able to get on track. A 20-goal scorer last year, Miller did not score in 10 games with Washington.
The addition of Cavallini, 27, is not expected to make a major impact on the Caps' lack of scoring, but the two-time All-Star defenseman is expected to strengthen the defensive effort.
The Capitals are 4-8 and last in the Patrick Division, a situation Poile says has reached the "critical" state.
"We're way below expectations," Poile said. "We've known from the beginning that this is going to be a division where it will take .500 to make the playoffs, and we're already four games below that. I'm very worried."
Poile no doubt became even more worried during the just-completed trip on which the team went 1-3. The last game was a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, one of few teams in the NHL with a record worse than Washington's.
"We have to do some things to work on our defensive responsibility," Murray said. "[Jim] Hrivnak played real good in Calgary. You could say that was a goaltender win and we didn't learn a lot from it. We should have come out of there knowing everyone had to pick up their game. But we didn't take the lesson from the Calgary game."
When one considers the Caps' record, mental mistakes, defensive lapses, the lack of goal production and the fact that team captain Rod Langway apparently has lost a step and was sat out one game for the first time in his career, it is no wonder Poile is worried.
"I think our top five guys are as good as anyone's in the league," Poile said of his defense. "But I think Paul will strengthen that area, and besides that, he's a very enthusiastic guy and maybe we need some of that in the locker room, too."
Cavallini expressed his enthusiasm last night. Reached at his St. Louis home, he acknowledged the trade was a shock, but also "an exciting moment."
"We're absolutely ecstatic," he said, referring to himself and his family, wife, Tracy, and 16-month-old son, Zachary. "We know Washington is a great organization. I know things haven't started well for them, but my feeling is there is a lot of time to catch up and play well."
Cavallini, who played in Washington briefly in 1987-88 before he was traded to the Blues, was expendable because St. Louis has an abundance of defenders and needs a forward.
"They were willing to give up one of their best defenders for a forward," Poile said. "When Paul was here before, he was a young, developing player. Since being in St. Louis he has developed into a very good player with a lot of pizazz."
"When I was there, I liked it," Cavallini said of his previous stint with the Caps. "It was a learning experience, getting to watch Rod Langway in his prime and Kevin Hatcher. Now, the Caps know what they're getting with me. They know my work ethic. They know I might not be the most skilled guy, but that I work hard to make up for it."