With some high-powered offensive players already in their arsenal, the Washington Capitals may look to add some stability on the blue line at the upcoming trade deadline on Feb. 24. There are some bright spots to the Capitals’ defensive core, as John Carlson is leading the team in points and is well on his way to winning the Norris Trophy. There are also some doubts creeping in – since the break, the Capitals are averaging over three goals against per game with a few of these games being against the league’s weaker teams.
A few individuals have been to blame for this slowed performance. Nick Jensen and Jonas Siegenthaler are names that catch a lot of heat in the Capitals media, and many people would like to see a fresh face added to give the team more defensive depth. Martin Fehervary’s play has seemed positive so far, but just four games with the club is not enough to give the Capitals the confidence they need for playoffs.
While some would argue adding depth at defence may not seem like an immediate concern, there is a lot less room for error come playoff time. The Capitals want to be sure they can trust in their blue line with the Stanley Cup at stake, so who can they add to ensure defensive stability?
Josh Manson, Anaheim Ducks
The big right-shot defenseman has been a rock on the Anaheim Ducks’ blueline. In the 2017-18 season, Josh Manson was a plus-34 with 37 points in 80 games and he would be an instant top-four addition to the Capitals defence. The 6-foot-3 28-year-old plays a defensive, physical style and is under contract through the 2021-22 season at a very reasonable $4.1 million average annual value (AAV).
Adding Manson to the right side would allow Jensen to move down to the third pairing giving him less time against elite forwards. Manson has proven himself against the league’s top forwards, constantly in the top percentile of the league for time on ice against elite forwards. With a top-four of Carlson, Kempny, Orlov and Manson, the Capitals would be among the best defensive teams in the NHL.
Looking at similar players that have been moved in past deals, it might be quite a high price to pay to bring in the physical defenseman. When Jake Muzzin was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Los Angeles Kings received a first-round pick and two prospects. Manson would definitely bring similar thundering hits as Muzzin to the Capitals’ defence. Also, Manson’s $4.1M contract is a great value and it may be difficult to get the Ducks to part ways with a defenseman with both value and term.
The Capitals will have to decide if defensive depth is what is most important to acquire for playoffs, and whether they believe the addition of Manson for a playoff run is worth giving up a first-round pick.
Dylan DeMelo, Ottawa Senators
The pending unrestricted free agent (UFA), Dylan DeMelo, has had a breakout season with the Ottawa Senators and has become one of the more prominent trade targets ahead of the Feb. 24 deadline. The 26-year-old is one of only four players with a positive plus/minus on a bottom-feeding Senators team. DeMelo is tied for the team-lead in defensive point shares, which is the number of points attributed to a player due to his defence. He also leads the team in Corsi and Fenwick, two major possession metrics used in the NHL.
As a rental, DeMelo would cost the Capitals significantly less than the Manson trade would. The lottery-bound Senators are sellers at the deadline, and we have seen their willingness to take on bottom-six forwards in the past (Connor Brown from the Leafs in 2019).
At the deadline last season, Jamie Oleksiak was moved for a fourth-round pick, and Adam McQuaid for a fourth and seventh-round pick. It is likely DeMelo would fetch a slightly higher return due to his consistency this season, but his low offensive upside and expiring contract bring his value down. This deal would add depth to the Capitals defensive core without having to give up significant assets in the process.
Brendan Dillon, San Jose Sharks
Another pending UFA, Brendan Dillon of the San Jose Sharks is currently in the final year of his five-year, $16.35 million contract, with a $3.27M AAV. Dillon is a big body at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and leads the Sharks in hits with 167 as of Feb. 7, which is good enough for eighth-most in the NHL. Dillon’s size and physical playing style would be a welcome addition to the Capitals blue line.
Since breaking into the league in the 2012-13 season, Dillon has played in all but 12 games which is a testament to his consistency and ability to stay healthy. This is crucial for a good rental player to create stability in a defensive core. Add the left-handed Dillon would bring more confidence to the Capitals, as 20-year-old Martin Fehervary currently fills the final left defenseman slot and has only played four NHL games in his career. Dillon also has plenty of playoff experience, playing in 60 playoff games during his time with the Sharks.
Since Dillon is a pending UFA, the return the Sharks require is likely lower than it would be for Manson who still has two years left on his deal. It is doubtful a first-round pick would be required. Dillon would be a good way to bring physicality and stability to the Capitals defensive core without sacrificing top-tier assets.
Ron Hainsey, Ottawa Senators
A name not getting talked about as much as the deadline approaches is Senators journeyman defenseman Ron Hainsey. In his 20th season of professional hockey, Hainsey has shown he can still be a solid penalty killer and depth defenseman. While he may not have the same jump as he used to, the veteran could be a solid, low-cost addition to a talented Capitals roster.
Hainsey has played 39 playoff games over the past three seasons and would be a great leadership figure to add to the dressing room. During his 2017-18 and 2018-19 playoffs with the Maple Leafs, Hainsey ate minutes for a thin Toronto defensive unit and killed penalties effectively. He was also a Stanley Cup champion in the 2016-17 season when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators.
Currently on a one-year, $3.5 million deal, Hainsey would be a cheap acquisition target for the Capitals. A struggling Senators’ team may want Hainsey as a mentor for their young players but getting a return to the 38-year-old on a one-year deal would be optimal for a team looking to build for the future.
If the Capitals were to acquire any of these defensemen it would be an upgrade from their current situation. But with how good the Capitals currently are, they have to be sure it is the right price to pay for a player today without sacrificing too much of their future.
Maple Leafs writer. Holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Bachelor of Sport Management (BSM) from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Lifelong hockey player and fan. Prior work in communications with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association and as a Sports Content Coordinator with Rogers Communications.