Between players like Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Washington Capitals have offensive firepower. Carlson is in the midst of a career year and is likely to be the Norris Trophy favorite; Ovechkin is filling the net as usual and is on his way to becoming the greatest goalscorer to ever play, and young forward Jakub Vrana is emerging as one of the NHL’s elite offensive players. While these key players give the Capitals one of the most feared offences in the league, depth could be an issue as playoffs near.
As of Feb. 12, the Capitals’ power play is 14th in the league operating at 20.3% which is well behind the league-leading Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins who sit at 29.9% and 26.3% respectively. A more alarming statistic is Washington’s Net Power Play Percentage which takes into account the number of shorthanded goals scored against them. Here they rank 22nd in the league at just 15.4%, well behind the same league leaders who are both at over 24%. The Capitals’ power play may need an adjustment in the coming weeks if this trend continues.
Power-play scoring is crucial in the playoffs. When the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, their power play was firing at 29.3%. Last season, the Nashville Predators were favoured over the Dallas Stars in the first round after winning the Central Division but were eliminated in six games after failing to score a single power-play goal. Success is crucial to the Capitals in a season when anything short of a Stanley Cup would be a disappointment.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ recent acquisition of Jason Zucker, the bar has been set high to acquire scoring wingers. The Minnesota Wild received a 2020 first-round pick, Alex Galchenyuk, and Calen Addison in return for Zucker, as he is a proven scorer with term on his contract. This trade may have increased the price for other scoring wingers such as Chris Kreider ahead of the Feb. 24 Trade Deadline.
If the Capitals do want to add scoring, what options do they have as deadline day approaches?
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators
The 27-year-old Canadian is in the midst of a breakout season. jean-Gabriel Pageau has already surpassed his career-high in goals with 21 in 54 games and is just nine points back of his career-high with 28 games remaining. He would add depth up the middle, creating an elite group of centers that includes Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Pageau and Lars Eller. Although listed as day-to-day, Kuznetsov’s recent injury shows the importance of the Capitals’ center depth.
Pageau also has a knack for playoff scoring. During the Senators’ 2016-17 run to the Eastern Conference Final, he exploded for eight goals in 19 games. That season, he also scored four goals in a playoff game including the double-overtime winner against the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their second-round series. The addition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau would add the depth scoring the Capitals need for another deep playoff run.
Pageau is in the final year of a 3-year, $9.3 million contract and is likely in for a payday at the end of this season. His $3.1 million average annual value (AAV) is manageable for the Capitals who have almost $3 million in cap space ahead of the trade deadline.
Because he is in the last year of his contract and does not have as proven a scoring history as Zucker, it’s unclear whether Pageau could bring the Senators a first-round pick. The Capitals have a ‘win now’ mentality, as their superstars age, and they need to determine if it’s worth sacrificing future assets for a player that could provide an offensive spark.
Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
The LA Kings are in a tough spot with salaries, skill and age. Tyler Toffoli is expected to be moved before the deadline. While his production has declined, the 27-year-old has not played on a contender with a threatening offence since the Kings’ 2013-14 Stanley Cup run. There is some untapped talent in Toffoli’s arsenal, and a change of scenery may bring out the best in him.
Toffoli is a proven NHL scorer. He had 31 goals and 27 assists in the 2015-16 season with the Kings and showed relatively consistent play until the team’s overall production came to a halt during the 2018-19 season. He was also a member of the successful ‘That 70’s Line’ with the Kings which featured #77 Jeff Carter, #73 Tyler Toffoli, and #70 Tanner Pearson.
Washington’s power play would benefit from adding a sniper like Toffoli, and if he clicks with the Capitals offence, the price to re-sign might be reasonable due to his decreased production over the past two seasons. With his contract expiring and as the Kings (ranked 30th in the standings) need to revamp their roster, don’t be surprised when Toffoli is moved to a contender before Feb. 24.
Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators
A center with undeniable talent, Mikael Granlund has not meshed with the Nashville Predators’ offence this season. The former ninth-overall pick showed off his skills when he was with Minnesota, tallying 309 points in 434 games from the start of the 2013-14 season until his Feb. 25, 2019 trade to the Predators for Kevin Fiala.
In 2011, he scored a lacrosse-style goal for Finland at the IIHF World Championships. His amazing vision was highlighted by back-to-back 65-plus point seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18. The 27-year-old has the potential to be one of the most dangerous centers in the NHL, especially with the game evolving to favour speed and skill.
Although he was involved in a straight-up trade for Fiala, the Finnish star may be a pricey acquisition if the Predators decide they are sellers at the deadline. Adding Granlund would give the Capitals three waves of top-tier talent up the middle, which is crucial for playoff success. He has started to heat up since Jan. 16, with six goals in his last 10 games.
With the deadline approaching and the Capitals’ offensive depth in question, we will soon find out if management feels scoring is an area that must be addressed for a team that is hopeful for another Stanley Cup run.