After nearly two months near the top of the Metropolitan Division to start the season, the Washington Capitals have spent more than a month in mediocrity, and cracks in a team that was once considered a front-runner to challenge for the Stanley Cup this year are beginning to show.
Currently mired in the midst of a 10-game stretch in which they’ve won just four games, general manager Brian MacLellan must begin turning over and examining all options to improve his club ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline.
From an aging veteran core to inconsistent young goaltending to a lack of depth among the team’s top-six forward group and struggles on the power play, there’s no shortage of storylines behind Washington’s recent struggles.
As MacLellan begins planning his moves over the next several weeks, unquestionably, he’ll be looking to make moves out of conference. If you’re looking at giving up young assets or draft picks to bolster your lineup with immediate health, you don’t want those young assets maturing and coming back to haunt you on a regular basis in future seasons.
With that in mind, over the next week or two, we’re going to take a trip around the Western Conference and examine some teams that are teetering on or fully out of playoff contention and what realistic trade options might be out there. We’ll begin with the Vancouver Canucks.
Garland and Pearson: The Wing Men
The Canucks have been a team on the rise since the firing of former head coach Travis Green and the hiring of his replacement Bruce Boudreau. But the Boudreau bounce only gets you so far, and there has been a lot of recent trade speculation in Vancouver focused on the future of point-per-game center J.T. Miller.
As good an acquisition as Miller would be for any contender, he doesn’t meet the Capitals’ needs, and the price point would simply be too high. With significant injuries to T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha, the Caps have been struggling with depth among their top-six wingers for much of this season. That’s what makes Conor Garland and Tanner Pearson such attractive options for the Capitals.
Since coming from Arizona in the offseason, Garland has been one of the bright spots for the Canucks in what has turned into a reset season for the club. He’s fifth in team scoring with 25 points in 42 games and should be on pace to set a new career-high with ease, assuming he remains healthy, needing only 15 points to set a new personal best.
Related: 5 Cool Things About Conor Garland
Garland would provide an immediate talent upgrade for the Capitals right side and, assuming Oshie returns, could slot down to Washington’s third-line and provide some grit and scoring punch for the playoffs. As an added bonus, he’s just 25-years-old and is signed through 2025-26 at $4.95 million per season, meaning he could be a key part of Washington’s future as well if they decide to reshape their core and get younger on the fly while staying competitive.
Pearson, meanwhile, is in his third full season in Vancouver and, like Garland, has been a solid if not spectacular contributor on the Canucks’ left side this year. Pearson is a proven Stanley Cup Playoff performer, having won a championship early in his career with the Kings in 2014, and would provide a great left-side depth piece beyond the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Conor Sheary.
Pearson’s is also affordable and could be easily slotted into Washington’s future salary cap structure with a $3.25 million cap hit per year for two more seasons – a time frame that would fit within the closing competitive window of the Caps’ core.
The Other Side of the Puck: Halak and Schenn
Everyone should be looking at Luke Schenn as a depth option on the blue line, and Washington is no exception. While the defense corps has not been part of the Capitals’ troubles this season, Schenn is the steady, stay-at-home veteran defensive presence that can provide stability and dependability in a bottom-pairing situation or as a next-man-up in the event of injury.
For a cost of just $850,000, he’s a good insurance policy that can likely be had for a second or third-round draft choice or a middle-tier prospect.
But the truth is, Washington’s struggles on the defensive side of the game over the last six weeks have been largely between the pipes. Give head coach Peter Laviolette marks for trying, a total of four different goaltenders (Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov, Zach Fucale, and most recently Phoenix Copley) have been given a chance to stabilize Washington’s net, with no success.
That’s what makes Jaroslav Halak so appealing as a solution for Washington. Halak is on a one-year deal with Vancouver at just $1.5 million, meaning the Caps could bring him in to solidify the goaltending and still have room to add to the forward group for a playoff run.
Halak’s numbers have been impressive on what had been, until the last month, a poor Vancouver team, posting a 2.40 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Importantly, he’s been a great partner as the backup to Canuck’s young star starter Thatcher Demko. A similar new mentoring role with one of Vanecek or Samsonov moving forward could give one of the young Capitals’ goalies the kind of in-house support they lack at the moment but could be critical to their longer-term development as an NHL starter.
Is Halak worth, say, a second-round draft choice? For a team that’s got Stanley Cup ambitions and is crying out for dependable veteran goaltending down the stretch and into the playoffs, the answer is clear: yes.
Pat Hirtle is a communications management professional in municipal government in the hockey hotbed of Nova Scotia, Canada.
With an academic background is history, five years’ experience as co-host of the sports-talk radio show Three For All, and more than a decade in the community newspaper industry as a reporter and award-winning columnist, Pat brings a strong writing, research, and analysis background to his work covering the Washington Capitals for THW.