With the All-Star break now behind us, the trade deadline looms large and is just over a month away. Where does each team stand and what moves should they be looking to make? We continue our look around the league with the Washington Capitals.
The Washington Capitals find themselves in a sticky situation with the trade deadline approaching. On one hand, like all other teams currently in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals may as well have already clinched a postseason berth. The other eight clubs in the East are so far out of the playoff picture that Washington is not worried about “if” they make the playoffs. On the other hand, the Caps are also not looking like a top contender this season. For much of the past few months, they have just been jockeying for wild card position with the Boston Bruins, who currently sit five points behind but with three games in hand. In the Metropolitan race, Washington is soundly in fourth, trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins by five points themselves. With limited cap space favoring a quiet approach but an aging core with waning chances pushing to load up for another run, the Capitals are left with difficult choices on how to navigate this year’s deadline.
28-15-9 (.625), fourth in Metropolitan Division
Deadline Cap Room
No base cap room, $1.913MM in deadline cap space with LTIR, 0/3 retention slots used, 45/50 contracts used per CapFriendly.
Upcoming Draft Picks
2022: WAS 1st, WPG 2nd, WAS 3rd, WAS 4th, WAS 5th, WAS 6th, WAS 7th
2023: WAS 1st, WAS 2nd, WAS 3rd, WAS 4th, WAS 5th, WAS 6th, WAS 7th
Just how big of a swing will the Capitals take? That will go a long way to determining which of their trade chips are actually available. With a full complement of draft picks in each of the next two years, it is safe to assume that one or more of those will be dealt away. However, Washington would like to retain their first-round picks if possible. Acquiring depth options rather than top targets will help in that pursuit, but won’t help the Capitals to transform into a legitimate contender this season.
Major buyer or just value shopper, it safe to assume that top prospect Connor McMichael is off the table barring an unforeseen blockbuster, which will be hard to do with limited cap space. Though McMichael has been inconsistent this season and hasn’t often been afford top-six opportunity, he projects as a scoring forward and is a critical piece of the future for an aging Washington team with a lacking pipeline.
Can the same be said for Hendrix Lapierre? After making the Capitals out of training camp, Lapierre was returned to his junior team and has had an underwhelming season. However, he is still a promising prospect with a bright future. If Washington makes a big move, perhaps Lapierre could be the centerpiece, but otherwise he should also be off limits.
So which young pieces could be available? Though they have played meaningful NHL roles at time this season, that could only serve to boost the trade value of forwards Alexei Protas and Brett Leason. Both appear ready for full-time roles, especially for rebuilding teams, and their size makes them menacing physical threats on top of scoring prowess. Yet, their ceiling could be limited for both, making them potential trade victims if the Capitals decide to mortage the future this season.
Among other young pieces, AHL defensemen Alexander Alexeyev and Lucas Johansen have struggled to find their way on to the NHL roster and could be looking for a fresh start while sellers look for untapped potential. Even more youthful defensemen Vincent Iorio and Brent Johnson are also intriguing pieces, but the Capitals may not be eager to move on so soon.
Of course, with the Capitals linked to some goaltenders on the trade block and two young netminders on the roster, neither of whom would clear waivers, Washington may have no choice but to give up one of Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek in order to make that move. Both are impending restricted free agents and a case could be made to keep one over the other. Samsonov is younger yet also more experienced, but hasn’t played his best this season. Vanecek has been the better goaltender and may be more affordable to re-sign, but at 26 years old this next contract will be his last before unrestricted free agency. The Capitals may ultimately have to let the sellers choose which they prefer.
1) Goaltending: The situation in the Washington net is fascinating. Multiple sources have reported that the Capitals are interested in adding a veteran goaltender before the deadline, with Marc-Andre Fleury among the names specifically mentioned. Yet, the team is actually seventh in the league in goals against per game making them statistically one of the best situated teams in net, even if they aren’t perfect. Admittedly, Samsonov, who leads the team in appearances, is having a down year with a .906 save percentage and 2.84 GAA, however it isn’t actually having a huge impact on the team and the amount of skepticism he has faced doesn’t seem entirely warranted. Despite some criticism of his own, Vanecek is quietly having a strong season, holding a .915 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. With that being said, he too has been inconsistent. Vanecek is currently sidelined with an upper body injury though, which may only amp up Washington’s alleged pursuit of another goalie. If the team doesn’t decide to swing for the fences for a new starter, they could instead look for an experienced third-string option that has cleared waivers and can be sent to the minors.
2) Top-Six Forward: On paper, an impact forward should actually be an even greater priority than a goaltender. While the Capitals are ranked 11th in scoring, two of their top five scorers are defensemen and there is a major drop-off from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and their 110 combined points and the rest of the forward corps. Making the situation even more pressing are the current injuries to Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie. The team could use scoring depth even if those two are healthy by the time the postseason kicks off, but if one or both are missing then an established top-six scorer would be a vital addition.
3) Depth Defenseman: The Capitals have run with a consistent and solid six-man defense group this season, though there is room for improvement. However, adding to the blue line is not the top priority and simply adding depth may be the way to go. Michal Kempny looks like a shell of his former self and Matt Irwin is not a dependable option, so beyond that top six there is a need for security. With Kempny, Irwin, and Justin Schultz on expiring contracts, Washington could be in position to add a defender with term if the opportunity arises. However, they may hold off and make a bigger move in the offseason.