The NHL trade deadline is March 21, and there will be plenty of buyers, sellers and negotiations until the final minute. The Washington Capitals are in an odd spot this season. Usually an aggressive buyer, the team may be better suited for patience or even consider becoming a seller this time around. After dropping two of three games against bottom-tier teams, the latter is more of a reality because they aren’t going to have a shot at the Stanley Cup this season.
There’s no need to fret; that wasn’t a plea to toss in the proverbial towel. Washington will still be in the market for a veteran goaltender and forward when the calls become more frequent in the coming weeks because that’s just what they do and will most likely still make the playoffs in a wild-card spot. However, it doesn’t mean they also can’t listen to the needs of other teams, especially considering some good names on the roster haven’t been producing as much as hoped.
Capitals Can Be Both Buyers and Sellers
The Capitals, like most talented but aging rosters, are in a predicament. The franchise’s Stanley Cup window is shutting fast; it was that way even before they hoisted the trophy back in 2018. Alex Ovechkin signing his five-year, $47.5 million contract over the summer is an indicator of how much time is left with this invaluable generation that has captured the city and made Washington, D.C., a hockey town. With that in mind, a mini reboot could coincide with a run for another championship.
It’s likely that changes need to be made inside this five-year window to remain a contender, but the team must be sensitive to the fact it can’t give up the bulk of its future in the process. As mentioned many times before, Washington needs to prepare for a transition, not a rebuild. If trade deadline deals are executed properly, this can be accomplished.
As of now, the Capitals need to be buyers because the last month and a half have shown the team’s vulnerabilities on the ice. Vitek Vanecek had been given the nod as the primary starter in net moving forward but was then placed on injured reserve at the beginning of February. Ilya Samsonov, who has been a rumored piece for a deal after his sub-par play, has had to take the reins. He relieved Phoenix Copley against the Columbus Blue Jackets, saving six of the seven shots. Unfortunately, the one he let in was the Blue Jackets’ late game-winner. He did play well against the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday, finishing with a .955 save percentage after facing 44 shots. Yet, his inconsistency returned as he gave up four goals to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
Health and inconsistency in the crease call for a veteran to either lead the Capitals in the playoffs or at least be a solid split presence. After going 1-2 against the Blue Jackets, Canadiens, and Senators – being handled in those two losses – Samsonov isn’t the lone issue. Another area of concern, mostly because of health, is the Capitals’ goal-scoring. Nicklas Backstrom returning to the lineup helps, and when T.J. Oshie comes back — and hopefully stays — things will improve.
The youth has filled in nicely, but realistically they shouldn’t be called upon to carry the team in the postseason if they clinch a spot. Carry the future, yes, not the present, and there are some intriguing and affordable names rumored to be available who could fit in well with the Capitals’ lineup.
There needs to be a balance, however. To bring up health again, and the potential to land — and sign — a prized asset who can be part of the upcoming core for years to come, Anthony Mantha, 27, is someone the Capitals need to start thinking more about.
The winger was part of a blockbuster deal in 2021 that sent Jakub Vrana and a first-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings. He recorded eight points in 14 games for Washington to finish the season but was fairly irrelevant in the playoffs. In 2021-22, he only played 10 games, recording six points, before needing shoulder surgery. He has never completed a full season in the NHL but came close in 2017-18 and last season.
Management must start looking at how valuable and durable the forward will be in the future, especially with the youth proving they can play in the NHL. Mantha has an annual cap hit of $5.7 million through 2023-24, and management could utilize the LTIR cap loophole – or they can trade him to a fringe playoff team about one or two years away from becoming a major threat – for a decent haul but not nearly as decent as the one they gave up, though.
Other than Samsonov and Mantha, two other names to consider moving are Justin Schultz and Carl Hagelin. Schultz is an unrestricted free agent in the summer, and considering his cap hit was $4 million this season, he may be too expensive to re-sign. His production, though he registered two assists against Montreal, has been down this season, and he currently holds a negative plus-minus rating. Washington may be able to get something for the veteran from a team looking for a solid defensive presence at the deadline.
Hagelin, as good as he has been for the Capitals, has also seen a drop in his production. However, his value is in the little things that create opportunities for others and keep Washington in games, and he is a quality role player for a team in need of such services. He will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and currently has a $2.75 million cap hit.
Capitals Realistically Sellers
The Capitals shouldn’t give up any of their promising youth at the trade deadline. However, they have the flexibility to give up draft picks because they could also acquire draft picks. If they want a big name, they must be willing to part with a big name. Samsonov and Mantha could be franchise players in their respective positions. Schultz and Hagelin can both be solid veterans if placed in the right situation. All four should have a high return value, or at least Washington should view it like that, which is something management has struggled with in the past; not getting rid of players for cap issues but getting more in return while freeing up space.
|Date||Player Acquired||Assets Lost||Player Status/Tenure|
|2/19/2018||Michal Kempny*||2018 3rd Round Pick||On Roster|
|2/21/2018||Jakub Jerabek||2019 5th Round Pick||11 Games Played|
|2/21/2019||Carl Hagelin||2020 6th Round, 2019 3rd Round Picks||On Roster|
|2/22/2019||Nick Jensen, 2019 5th Round Pick||Madison Bowey, 2020 2nd Round Pick||On Roster|
|2/18/2020||Brenden Dillon||2020 2nd Round, 2021 3rd Round Picks||66 Games Played|
|2/23/2020||Ilya Kovalchuk||2020 3rd Round Pick||7 Games Played|
|2/24/2020||Daniel Sprong||Christian Djoos||On Roster|
|4/11/2021||2021 3rd Round Pick||Jonas Siegenthaler||Drafted Brent Johnson|
|4/12/2021||Michael Raffl||2021 5th Round Pick||10 Games Played|
Since 2018, the Capitals have given away a net of seven draft choices for one Stanley Cup. Of course, there have been other moves during the summer to re-acquire picks. If the organization is going to be a buyer, they need to do something to balance out their transactions and maintain the near future as well as the next generation. As of right now, it may not be worth it to be a buyer because they could be acquiring a rental just to make the playoffs and nothing else.
As of now, Washington isn’t going to win the Cup this season; there is no team they can beat in a seven-game series, so there’s no point in losing high-round picks and trading away valuable young assets because they need multiple pieces anyway.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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