With the trade deadline now just weeks away, we’re taking a closer look at each team. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs?
The Washington Capitals are in a very similar situation. The 2015-16 Capitals team ran away with the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team, and this year are on pace to do so again. Last year’s squad had so much depth and talent at every position that they made only two minor deadline moves, acquiring forward Daniel Winnik from the Toronto Maple Leafs and defenseman Mike Weber from the Buffalo Sabres. This year’s team is almost identical to last year’s. Weber is gone, as is Jason Chimera and Michael Latta. However, those absences have largely gone unnoticed, and the 2016-17 version is possibly more talented with the likes of Lars Eller and Brett Connolly in the fold. However, with Andre Burakovsky sidelined by injury until after the Trade Deadline and with over $4MM in cap space just waiting to be used up, Washington should look to make a couple more depth additions again this season. After all, this same roster lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round last year, and will likely have to go up against them again this year. If they want to finally take home that elusive Stanley Cup championship for the first time in franchise history, they need to do all they can to bolster the roster for a postseason run.
39-11-6, 1st in the Metropolitan Division/Eastern Conference/NHL
Deadline Cap Space
2017: WAS 1st, WAS 4th, WAS 5th, WAS 6th, WAS 7th
2018: WAS 1st, WAS 3rd, WAS 4th, WAS 5th, WAS 6th, WAS 7th
Frankly, the Capitals are short on capital. Last deadline season, Winnik cost them young defenseman Connor Carrick and the price for Weber was a 2017 third-round pick. This summer, they paid the hefty price of 2017 and 2018 second-round picks to the Montreal Canadiens for Eller. What’s left for selections of value, especially in a seller’s market, is their 2017 first-rounder, which is virtually untouchable since it would leave Washington without a pick this year until the fourth round, and their first-round and third-round picks next year. Desperate for a championship with one of the most talented rosters they have ever had, don’t be shocked if the Capitals move that 2018 top pick if they have to. Outside of draft selections, the prospect cupboard is awfully empty. With so many impending unrestricted free agents on the roster, the team will be hesitant to move rookies who have seen NHL action this year like Zach Sanford and Jakub Vrana. They may not have a choice, but given one, the Capitals will likely move unproven prospects instead
Players To Watch
1) Depth Defenseman – Just like Weber last year, the Capitals top need is definitely another body on the blue line. Nate Schmidt has stepped up and had a strong season as the team’s #6 defenseman, but behind him there are no good options. A veteran defenseman on an expiring contract who can give starters a rest down the stretch and be relied on in the postseason if need be is at the top of Washington’s wish list.
2) Depth Forward – Again, just like Winnik at the 2016 deadline, the Capitals could use another forward. Although Burakovsky’s absence shouldn’t extend into the playoffs, that uncertainty might provoke the Capitals into going after one of the scorers on the market, like Arizona’s Radim Vrbata. If they feel certain that Burakovsky will be back, the team could still use a veteran bottom-six skater so that any injury in the playoffs would not leave Sanford and Vrana on the hook in a high-pressure situation. A depth forward with term on his contract would be ideal, providing a safety net for the Caps’ forward corps this year and next and also alleviating some expansion concerns.
3) Backup Goaltender – On the off chance that GM Brian MacLellan decides that he doesn’t want to risk losing impressive young backup Philipp Grubauer for nothing in the expansion draft to former Capitals GM George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights, he may accept a strong offer from a net-needy team and trade away Braden Holtby’s understudy. As good as Holtby is, Washington would be foolish to go into the playoffs with only inexperienced Joe Cannata as the backup. They would likely have a deal for a good veteran goalie lined up before parting ways with Grubauer.