Thursday, 23 October 2003
Capitals trade Kono
For a long time, the Washington Capitals' captain, Steve Konowalchuk, was my favorite player on the team. One of the best checking forwards in the National Hockey League, his smart defensive play, gritty style, and leadership in the locker room reminded me a lot of the way I played soccer.
The two best right wings on the planet (Peter Bondra and Jaromir Jagr) frequently overshadow the Caps' left side, where Kono has been solid as a rock for 13 seasons. In a league where few offensive lines remain intact for an entire season, Kono was the cornerstone of the NHL's most respected checking line for three years. That line, which included Jeff Halpern and Ulf Dahlen, faced opponents' highest-scoring players each night and still mustered nearly the highest combined plus-minus rating of any line in the NHL during that time. Alas, nothing lasts forever.
A shoulder injury ended Kono's 2001-2002 season after a month, and he has not played at his former level since returning last year. Halpern injured his knee that same year and ended his season early, too. Dahlen left the team via free agency. Now, Kono has been dealt to the Colorado Avalanche for Bates Battaglia, a "bruising winger" who plays with "many of the same on-ice qualities as Konowalchuk," in the words of Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post.
The teams also swapped the Caps' third-round 2004 draft pick and forward Jonas Johansson, who was Colorado's first-round pick (28th overall) in 2002. And no discussion of this deal would be complete without mentioning the salary differential: Kono is earning $1.575 million this season, compared to Battaglia's $935,000. Majority owner Ted Leonsis vowed to cut costs after five years of optimistic investment in marquee players (especially Jagr, who is earning $11 million per season over seven years) failed to produce playoff results.
I will miss Kono, but the Capitals should come out ahead on this deal. This season may be a wash between the two established players, but Johansson has been a darling of the Capitals' amateur scouts for some time. They believe he will be a top-six forward in just a few years.