A year ago, when he was headed toward unrestricted free agency as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, veteran forward Daniel Winnik knew he was going to be traded before the NHL trade deadline.
This year, he was “pretty shocked” when his cell phone rang at 10:45 Sunday night and Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello was on the other end.
“He said it was Washington,” Winnik said Monday via conference call. “I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to get traded or where, but I was definitely not expecting to come to the Capitals.”
Winnik said he plans on arriving in Washington on Tuesday night and his availability for the Caps’ game against the Pittsburgh Penguins depends on how quickly his work visa is processed. He said he will “for sure” play in Wednesday night’s game against the Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.
At 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, Winnik is a hard-hitting, left-handed forward who likely will play left wing on a fourth line with center Jay Beagle and right wing Mike Richards. He will also replace Brooks Laich on one of the Capitals’ penalty killing units.
Last season Winnik ranked second among NHL forwards in average shorthanded ice time (3:16). In 56 games for the Leafs this season he has four goals, 10 assists and is a minus-3 while averaging 1:41 in shorthanded ice time.
“I’ve done it since Year One of my career and I take a lot of pride in that,” Winnik said. “I think I do a good job at it and I think it’s kind of been my niche in this league and what’s kept me around at times. I think it’s very rare for a team to be called elite or at the upper echelon of the league without a good penalty kill.”
Winnik said he thinks going from the last-place Maple Leafs to the first-place Capitals will help “revitalize” his play.
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“It brings more meaning to the games, that’s for sure,” Winnik said. “It’s nothing against what we’ve been through in Toronto, but you kind of try to play spoiler when you’re out of the playoffs, like we have been in Toronto. Coming to a team that’s in a pretty cushy playoff position, you always just want to keep playing better and winning more games so we finish first in the East and hopefully win the Presidents’ Trophy as well.”
As a late-season rental with the Penguins last season, Winnik managed two goals and seven assists in 21 games but was a minus-6 in five playoff games as the Pens were eliminated in five games by the Rangers.
Winnik seems to think there will be a different ending to this season, saying he sees the Caps as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
“I do, yeah,” he said. “I think it’s hard to predict who’s going to be Cup contenders based off of where you were seeded and playing. The last two years in Anaheim we were one of the best regular-season teams and we just didn’t make it there.
“Arguably, you could say that was the case for (the Ducks) last year and they didn’t make it. The playoffs are tough. You don’t know what to expect. But I think this is probably the deepest roster the organization has had, and that’s going to bode well. Not just that, goaltending goes a long way in playoffs, and if (Braden) Holtby just maintains that play, it should do us good.”